Monday, December 26, 2011

British Airways vs Jet Airways vs Kingfisher Airlines - Mumbai to London

I have been a regular flyer on the Mumbai-London air route for about a year now and it has so happened that i have experienced travelling with various airline companies to come to a conclusion on who is the best operator in this segment.

The Contenders:
The contenders in this comparison are major airline companies that operate directly between Mumbai and London, all but save Air India. British Airways (BA) is the old player here and never faced any heat in the direct segment until recently when Jet Airways (Jet) and Kingfisher Airlines (KF) decided to start international operations.

Jet and BA are known to be Boeing loyal and hence use the Boeing 737-300ER. Although both airlines use the exact same make and model, Jet seemed to be slightly more modern and well-maintained in comparison to BA. The 'mood lighting' in Jet is a feature where the cabin lights colour change every now and then, there are common screens in the cabin that constantly display flight information and smart furnishing are all lacking in BA. KF, on the other hand, is an Airbus shopper and currently uses the Airbus A330 until their order of A380's finally arrives. The cabin is more or less similar to Jet except for the unique 'mood lighting' which simply makes the flight experience more relaxed and uplifting compared to the otherwise staid ambiance. An Internet search revealed BA also uses 747's to fly to India, but for the flight that I was in, the smaller sibling was utilised.

Food and Drinks:
Food on long haul flights is probably the most essential aspect especially since you have no second option if you don't enjoy the meal that is served to you. KF is probably the only airline (out of all the various ones that I have travelled on) that offers a menu of their offerings even in Economy class. Surprisingly, the menu is not simply to make the process more elaborate and flamboyant but because the airline does offer a third meal option apart from the usual veg and non-veg meals. Their are also options for various cocktails on offer which might be offered by rivals but are never explicitly mentioned anywhere. It simply makes the task to request for food and drinks much easier for the passenger as well as the flight attendants who don't have to verbally spell out everything they carry to each passenger. Food quality on all three airlines are more or less at par with each other. If one must find fault, it would probably be the plastic cutlery offered by BA which pails in comparison to the shiny stainless steel forks and spoons that KF and Jet give out. Jet offers complimentary fresh limes before take off, KF puts a bottle of water on your seat and BA gives nothing.

In-flight Entertainment:
For those who don't fancy sleeping on board the flight, the in-flight entertainment system is the only path away from boredom and for people like me, who love movies and watch almost 4 on a flight one way, it is something I can never do without. BA offered one of the worst entertainment systems ever and reminded me of the systems that used to be available roughly 8-10 years ago. There is no entertainment navigation system where one can select movies of choice but an 8-channel system, much like a TV at home, where each channel plays 2 movies back to back. There is no way to pause the movie, select another movie of choice or have any kind of control whatsoever. The screen size is probably 8 inches wide which is tiny compared to rivals which also started more than one hour later after flight departure. Usually KF an Jet have it up and running during boarding but BA decided to start it after one whole hour, force you to watch the news on BBC, show some adverts and unnecessary flight information videos before finally starting the system, a good two hours into the flight. KF and Jet offer great systems with a wide array of movies from various languages to chose from along with TV shows, music, games, flight information etc. When it comes to headsets, KF probably rank the lowest with poor sound quality and volume levels with the headphones clip digging into your ears which pains after a while. Jet is slightly better but fit loosely on the head which leads to a lot of sound leakage. BA has amazing headphones which are a boon to use especially to listen to music. Sadly, the weak entertainment software does not supplement the otherwise fabulous headset. BA also offers the standard 3.5mm audio jack which means that you could plug in your own headsets in case the ones that BA offers are not to your liking. I always wondered why Jet insists on using the two-pin jack and why wont they allow passengers to use their own headsets if the need be.

Flight attendant service on Jet and KF were at par with each other and BA has some serious work cut out for them. Staff was rude and at times snobbish, breakfast was served hurried and late with essentials such as tea and coffee missing. It appeared as if they never would have liked to be on this flight to begin with and made faces when requests were made. Jet and KF are, on the other hand, helpful and caring without a fuss and indeed go out of the way to make the journey comfortable.

Pricing is a sensitive issue and depends on a vast number of factors. However, I have, of all the times I have scouted the Internet for prices, seen that Jet is invariably the cheapest, followed closely by KF and BA being the more expensive pick of the lot. This has also been confirmed by a lot of my friends and colleagues too opting for Jet since it turns out to be the cheapest of the available options.

Not considering price, Jet and KF seem to come out on top as the more preferred airline. One can argue that flight time plays a very vital role but in this case, all direct flight operators (including Air India) operate within the same 1 hour window with the exact same flight frequency. Jet, with its more inviting and uplifting cabin feel, gets an upper hand and emerges as the clear winner. KF follows close behind and its tough to find any fault with it in comparison to Jet. BA has been the clear loser with a sub-standard experience. The fact that you need to shell out a lot more money for the ticket too does not help its case. BA being the oldest operator has suddenly lost the monopoly in the sector and have failed to improve in face of competition. I am quite sure that an Air India flight would probably give a similar experience at a far lower cost which might just make it comparable to Jet and KF. The aspect to realise here is that neither Jet nor KF, or any other airline for that matter, has a major advantage over its competition on any grounds. Hence it makes the game quite easy for any one airline to overtake competition by simply daring to be different, even if it means altering to a new flight schedule. If flyer's enjoy a certain advantage that a carrier starts to offer, it might change the game in this sector heavily and can be beneficial to both airline and passenger.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tikona: Sales team harrasment

The search for an alternative broadband Internet service provider began. The local cable operator was unprofessional, lacked any service commitment and never really cared. A quick Google search and some common knowledge made me visit a handful of known and reputed companies that provide the service. The companies being Airtel, MTS, Sify, Reliance, Tikona and a few more whose names I really cant remember right now. A few companies were shortlisted on the basis of the information provided on the website and a sales request was put in. To my major surprise, the bigger players like Airtel never reverted to my request on the website and to my utter disgust the only person who reverted was Tikona, and how!

I get a call the next day from a Tikona sales person and an appointment is fixed. Within the due course of the day another 4-5 sales persons keep calling me trying to get an appointment to come home. What ired me the most was a particular sales representative who has taken up the words 'never give up' a little too literally and constantly kept calling, refusing to hand up the phone in spite of me losing my temper. So much so, he intended to come home unannounced and went as far as to threaten or blackmail me (whichever way you put it) citing that he is the sole after-sales and technical support person within my area and suggested that he would not co-operate with me if the sales lead was given to someone else. Disgusted, I cancelled all my intentions of taking a connection with Tikona and the change of service provider has been shelved indefinitely.

Issue Summary:
1. Companies not responding to Internet inquiries
2. Tikona 'selling' personal details to freelance sales persons who are capable to walk right up to your doorstep unannounced
3. A particular sales person who constantly harasses and blackmails customers

No formal complaint with Tikona was launched after this situation. The only outcome was that I got irritated and decided to continue with my current service provider for the time being until I manage to get the mental energy to search for another one. And yes, I would prefer to stay as far away as possible from Tikona!

Share your experiences with Tikona or any other Internet service provider below.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Easy Cabs: Cancellation without notice

This is a slightly old issue which has already been resolved.

I never had the need to book a radio taxi in Mumbai with either my own vehicle or the regular kalli-pilli (black and yellow) taxi's/rickshaws being available. On two occasions friends from outside of Mumbai asked me to book a cab on their behalf and its only then that I realised that one 'should not rely on them'.

After spending a year in the UK, I got used to the very convenient, prompt and relatively cheap radio taxi service and was a bit shocked with the service in Mumbai. Meru, Easy Cabs and Mega Cabs are companies that are the most popular in this arena. I was a little taken aback at the difficulty of getting through to their call centres, the honey-voiced lady asking me to press numbers on my keypad and the atrocious music one has to tolerate before you finally get through to an attendant. I was more used to the bored Indian/Pakistani picking up the phone in 2 rings and telling me '10 minutes' before hanging up. What also surprised me is that all three companies turned down my request citing unavailability of cabs.

With this incident behind me, I had to once more book a taxi for a another friend. Meru once again turned me down saying they are full (do they seriously get so much business?) but Easy Cabs took up the job and confirmed the booking. My friend had instructed me to give them a call half an hour before the scheduled time of arrival to double check on their status. With my UK experience still fresh, I doubted that it would be necessary and was confident that the cab would arrive on time. I yet put the call through, reminding myself 'this is India' and was utterly disgusted to know that the company had conveniently cancelled my booking, 15 minutes before the scheduled arrival. The executive also mentioned that a communication for the same had been given, which I have not seemed to receive. When I argued the executive maintained fort that communication was sent and nothing could be done.

The good old kalli-piili's once more came to my rescue but this incident pinched me. I decided to blast them over over Twitter but was not expecting any kind of outcome. Surprisingly, @EasyCabsIn replied back asking me for my booking identification number which was provided for. A lady later called me back and spoke 5 lines faster than a Rajdhani on adrenaline. The only words I captured was 'sorry' ' communicated' 'you' 'wont happen'. Although I cant be very sure, I suspect that the lady was holding ground that the communication was sent but she is still sorry.

Issue summary:
1. Long waiting to get through call centres
2. Always 'full'
3. Cancellation without notice

Although the cancellation was uncalled for, Easy Cabs managed the crisis well, took the efforts to acknowledge the mistake and apologised. In future if I do ever need a radio taxi again, Easy Cabs would still be my first choice as against Meru who never seem to be available.

Share any of your Radio Taxi experiences, good or bad, in the comments section below.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kingfisher Airlines: Partner Airline Redemption.. NO RESPONSE!

So I decided to go for my convocation ceremony to the UK. A short trip in the month of December where I can get on stage, flash my teeth, where some fancy robes and get a degree rolled up in red ribbon. Unfortunately my dreams were shattered looking at the price of airline tickets. Being season time in Inida, all the firangs make a mad dash to Goa and hence the exorbitant ticket price. With no decent airline below Rs. 60,000 (I refuse to fly Air Arabia and Turkish Airlines) I decide to call the trip off.

Days later the newspapers splat the front pages of Kingfisher Airlines going bust with flights getting cancelled. My uncle having a KingClub Gold account with more than 1.5 lac frequent flyer miles racked up, is scared that is precious miles might go waste if the airline would shut shop and hence suggests I use them to book a free ticket to London and back. Since there is the imminent threat that Kingfisher flights may not fly at all, i decide to book the tickets on a partner airline.

The website seems to be unaware on how I am supposed to do this and hence a call to their customer service is made. After listening to 'flying high you and meeeeeeee......' for far too long (and yes, getting through to their phone number itself is a task) I am told that I have to download and fill a form and to email to their KingClub department. A bit shocked at the bureaucratic process, I do the needful and wait for a reply. After waiting two days, another call to their customer service department informs me that the revert back comes only within 72 hours at the least. Another patient two days later another call to the customer care department shockingly reveals that they never received my email to begin with else 'they would never have made the mistake of not informing the customer on time'. I am also told that I cannot book for a journey where Kingfisher itself operates, fair enough, and hence I re plan my trip via Amsterdam or Paris and resend a fresh form and itinerary.

An impatient 5 days later after not receiving any response (quote: we never make the mistake of not informing the customer on time) I am told, to my delight, that the email has come through! I am also told, to my disappointment, that due to 'technical difficulties' they need 2-3 more days. The tipping point had crossed once more and being well-versed in social media and the power of Social Media Monitoring I decided to take matters in my own hand and sent a tweet to @flykingfisher on Twitter informing them about my levels of happiness with my recent experience of their customer service. I am a Gold member I tell you, where are those flamboyant privileges you promised me?

Exactly like how I had predicted, Kingfisher tweeted back asking for my membership number and contact number, both which were provided for. A charming lady contacted me a few hours later asking me what the exact issue was. I ran the entire story through her and she picked out a cunning flaw. The second email was sent through the work email address and not the personal email address registered on their system and hence the redemption could not take place. Please email us asap again from your registered email address and I will get back to you within a few hours. The email was sent, albeit a little later than what I had promised her I would but her response never came. @flykingfisher had tweeted out to me asking if he called and I concurred. A few days later, with no response I tweeted once more telling them I still await a revert back and once again, no response.

At the time of typing this post, it had been more than 20 days since I had sent out the very first email and I have roughly a week to go before I am scheduled to fly out. I had given up all hope but was still a little frustrated with their disregard for customer service. I said to myself, one last call. Ever heard the phrase 'salt to the wound' well that is pretty much what happened. As always it is virtually impossible to get through 080-66117600, the Kingfisher customer service number with the MTNL lady shrieking 'The customer you are calling is currently biji (busy), please try later...' and when I did getting through to a human voice is a mammoth task. Tasks I completed while on hold for 25-minutes:
>> Checked email
>> Played a round of NinJump on my phone
>> Skyped with a friend for 15 minutes

But no, I am not the one who gives up very easily! Disconnected the call and tried once more, not that it made any difference. I was still on hold for 20 minutes, the time in which I created this blog, typed the first post and started writing this one until a gentleman finally came on the call. After explaining the entire epic story, the representative told me how extremely sorry he was and that I was to give him half an hour in which he would fast-track the issue and get back to me. Its been an hour, 30 minutes above his stipulated time and I still await the call back.... NO RESPONSE!

Issue summary:
1. Extremely difficult to get the line to even connect
2. Very long waiting time
3. No revert back on multiple occasions
4. Bureaucratic redemption process

P.S Watch the comments section for a reply from Kingfisher's social media monitoring, I still have that faith in them they will. :D

UPDATE - 06/12/2011
Kingfisher finally did revert back, 4 hours later than the promised time. I did finally get my ticket, although not for the date I wanted.

It was highly disappointing that in spite of all the turmoils the company faces, it has failed to take necessary action in keeping back those few customers who still chose to fly Kingfisher. The fact that Gold members are harassed, left without response and have dedicate their own personal time and money in following up with the company on a regular basis is shameful. The end result was satisfactory, but had this come a long time ago without all the unnecessary drama, this blog may not have even started. Is that good or bad?

Share any of your Kingfisher experience, good or bad, in the comments section below.

Introduction: A Special Thanks to Kingfisher!


Every piece of literary work needs some form of inspiration. Be it an artistic masterpiece, a novel, a fluid poem or even an amateur blog, everything comes from that tiny spark in the head which grown like a disease until you finally let go of your inhibitions and bring out the magic. And who would have thought that an almost defunct-airline would be responsible behind this blog?

The Indian Consumer is trying to set out to do what leaders of the great nation of India have not done yet. And no, by that I don't mean to shoot Justin Beiber or to expel Kamaal R. Khan from this country but to address the complaints of the common man. Each and every day we execute our regular routine, get harassed by many and yet bear it all like nothing has happened. Be it bad roads, poor infrastructure, companies that don't seem to care about the very people that fund their chairman's lavish lifestyle, products that break before you make the purchase or your doodhwala not coming in the morning on time, we accept everything and maybe worse. That said, the blog is not for my rebellious outbursts but would include a lot of brands that have lived up to expectations and have delighted or overwhelmed customers.

I may not be able to change everything, I may not be able to improve yours and my lifestyle but I can try. If we can all stop tolerating and in some form or the other stand up to the injustice and bring about awareness, we might be able to improve something. Its a try, creating a blog is free, I have frustration to vent out, I have spare time in-between creating marketing pitches and you, my dear reader, is more than willing to read (at least that is what I think it is).

So, what has Vijay Mallaya's Kingfisher Airlines got to do with all this? Well lets just say they helped me reach a breaking point. That point in your head when you feel like getting out, taking control, slapping every idiot on the road, shaking up every lazy corporate employee, the point when the Bhagat Singh in every one of us comes alive. Thanks a lot Kingfisher, but don't fly away so soon. Please read my second post before you do so, I really would appreciate it :)