When our columnist was asked to clean up after himself on a flight, he began wondering whether on-time delivery was everything.

Some people are born lazy, some achieve laziness and some have laziness thrust upon them. I can humbly claim to have written the script, composed the music and continue to hold the worldwide rights to this admirable trait. I wonder to what I owe this state of body and soul that embraces this virtue so readily and the answer goes back to my childhood where I was the youngest child for a period of seven years (till my sister was born) and was thoroughly pampered.

My sister being born helped cement the habit as she would normally lay out all my stuff in the bathroom even before I woke up, the piece de resistance being my toothbrush with the right quantity of toothpaste in it! So you can’t really blame me for leaving my coffee mug near the bean bag for three days or the newspaper near the sink or the wet towel on the bed. These are par for the course. But, dear reader, I value your patience and will soon get to the point. It is simple: Today’s airline travel has become exceedingly difficult for particularly lazy people like me and my brethren who are being forced to do more domestic work in one-and-a-half-hours than they normally do in a month as they pick up paper cups, tissues, empty cartons and what have you so that Indigo can build its reputation of being ‘on time’ most of the time at least.

Is on-time delivery everything?

“You can either love me or hate me, but for God’s sake don’t ignore me” has been my guiding principle in communication. The older I get, the more difficult it seems to be to change (though I must confess that I am quite happy with my current tactless state). I now know that I have your undivided attention and if I may add, have easily raised the hackles of the people at Indigo Airlines and most certainly their PR agency which, incidentally, has done a great job of making a good service sound and look even greater. Mind you, I admire the airline even if I find its touting its own praises a bit harsh, at least to my sensitive ears. But the aircraft are clean, the air-hostesses smart if a bit starchy and the service generally gets me from place A to place B on time though like every other airline it promptly blames the air traffic authorities for any delays.

Get ready to clean

Mind you, I am not a finicky traveller. I used to love Kingfisher Airlines and travelled by it till the flamboyant owner decided to systematically run it to the ground. I loved the lounge and the smiling air-hostesses who treated me as one of the guests to their employer’s home. Now tell me, however rich you may be, how many people can you entertain at your own home day in and day out? Obviously the show is over though the vendors are still hoping even as they lick their wounds.

I am quite happy with Air India when it is not on strike, even if it never seems to have my frequent flier number.Jet Airways is fine and will get even finer when it resolves the confusion of which Jet brand you are flying with. I do hope Jet knows, which leads me to the point of this piece, and Indigo Airlines. Flights by Indigo are usually uneventful and I do like the ramp instead of the stairs as it is considerate to people who are getting on in years and I know that I am getting there.

The cart sells stuff that you normally get anywhere though on Friday when I flew in from Nagpur to Bangalore I got adventurous and bought the ‘dosai’ as it was written in Tamil. What suckers we are for our roots!

If that was troublesome, eating a cold dosa at room temperature (as the hostess correctly informed me), the ordeal that followed later was worse. As the stewardess promptly asked us to ‘clean up our own mess’ so that they could be on time and make a few more claims, I got working.

My spare tissues had gone under different seats and the lady in front glared balefully at me as I bent to pick them up. I am sure images of lecherous old men must have flashed in her mind. By this time the dosa carton too had fallen down and the paper cups in which water had been served had secured themselves impenetrably within the seat cover.

I started sweating as I struggled to meet the airline’s objective of being on time and thankfully I did it, telling myself that I owed myself a massage once I landed. And yet there was a silver lining. I was only glad that my wife was not travelling with me. Imagine what my future would have been at home where my life of laziness would have been rudely curtailed!

On time or comfort?

Let me ask a few questions. It is important for airlines to be profitable and turn around quicker as strategists would have us believe. Imagine someone who is probably not a frequent flier like some of us who think airline travel is all luxury. What would their impressions be? What is the airline saving in terms of manpower for cleaning? As it reaches the next level of profitability will it ask me to go to the deck to fetch my own paper cup of water? And how many airline travellers like me are lazy and are following orders to clean up resentfully?

My idea is not to stir up a hornet’s nest but merely to give marketers this simple message: Hey, pamper me! Don’t make me work!

(Ramanujam Sridhar is Director of Custommerce and Founder-CEO of brand-comm, a communications consulting company. http://www.ramanujamsridhar.blogspot.com)

(This article was published on August 16, 2012)
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