“Strategic direction is more important today. It's about providing a framework for managers to navigate through the fog of complex chokes. No company can avoid this."

– C.K. Prahalad –

PoS Nov 2015 | Jet Airways: A Question of Full Service

In December 2014 Jet Airways announced its new strategy to become a full service airline. In its new avatar Jet Airways competes with Air India and Vistara as well with low cost airlines.

A recent experience left me wondering if Jet is well equipped to execute its strategy.

A delayed flight
A few days ago, I took a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. The delayed flight was rescheduled for 2150 departure. Boarding was completed by 2145 but owing to traffic congestion in Mumbai airport, the aircraft was not cleared for take-off till 2250. The hour-long wait on the ground with doors shut grew distinctly uncomfortable as cabin temperature rose, almost certainly above 30 degrees C.

Most passengers doubted that air-conditioning had been switched on and demanded to see the Captain who seemed to be oblivious. Fortunately, the cabin temperature dropped within five minutes after the plane took off. But a sense of dissatisfaction had taken root. Passengers had spent more than half hour in the heat.

Comfort and care….a lack of both
I was determined to get to the root of the matter. I enquired about the uncomfortable conditions with a steward and later, when we landed in Bangalore, with the Captain. I learned that the air conditioning had been switched on the whole time and set at 24 deg C. However, the idling engines could not generate enough power to cool the cabin sufficiently. The problem was amplified with the body heat (37 degrees) of nearly 160 passengers. The fact that the plane was 18 years old played its part too.

The steward was sincerely apologetic but the Captain did not once say sorry neither to passengers, nor to me when I met him in person. He pretty much told me he did everything by the book.

Passenger comfort in old planes
A little research revealed that nearly 22% of Jet Airways’ fleet of 115 aircraft is older than 8 years. Air-conditioning of older Boeing 737s and ATRs, is significantly less efficient than that of new generation planes. Besides, old air filters and ducting reduce the efficiency of cooling and heating. Admittedly, planes do not usually spend much longer than 15 minutes between push back and being airborne. But when they do, especially in the hotter Indian cities such as Delhi, Chennai, Amritsar, and Kolkata, the experience can be very unpleasant.

What Jet can do…3-step fix
First, they must improve on time performance (OTP). When flights arrive and depart on time, they are less often subject to delays on the ground. Jet’s performance between April and October 2015 was middling. Jet had improved its OTP in four metro airports from 79.4% (April) to 85.3% (October). In the same period Indigo (low cost) had raised its performance from 79.1% to 89.6%, while Vistara (full service) had ranged between 96.3% and 93.5%. On time flying is one of the most important value drivers for passengers who prefer full-service airlines.

As soon as possible, Jet should rationalise its fleet to one or two types of aircraft, and modernising it. The burgeoning power of low cost airlines has effectively clipped the pricing power of full service companies. A modern and rationalised fleet will cost less to operate and maintain, and provide greater passenger comfort.

Till that is done, it can sensitise the cabin and flying crew to care a little more for passenger comfort. Sincere enquiries and expressions of regret go a long way to reassure customers.

Assets and strategy
A firm deploys assets to deliver services to customers. An airline uses planes; a telecom company networks, banks leverage branches, hardware and software, and so on. When assets – hard and soft – are unable to deliver the firm’s offerings to target customer segments, strategy begins to fray at the edges.

Sources: planespotters.org, jetairways.com, dgca.nic.in

You can read a related piece on Jet-Sahara merger:How Endowment Effect, Confirmation Bias & Overconfidence Make a Deadly Cocktail