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.

Aircraft:
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.

Service:
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.

Price:
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.

Verdict:
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.

11 comments:

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