Flight Plan

‘On time’ alone won’t win brownie points

K Giriprakash | Updated on April 04, 2021

On the dot: The airline industry views punctuality as the only benchmark of efficiency   -  VIJAY BATE

Post-pandemic, airlines may have to combine punctuality with heightened passenger services, including safety, to soar again

Why are airlines fanatical about the on-time performance (punctuality) of their flights?

According to Benjamin Walther, the CEO of Frankfurt-based software company Information Design who regularly writes about the airline industry, the carriers see it as the only benchmark of efficiency. But post-lockdown, he believes that it is important that airlines re-examine certain long-held beliefs. “Undoubtedly, no one blames airlines for the current situation due to Covid-19. However, many airlines are stuck doing things in an outdated way that leads to inefficiency. One thing I often observe when talking to airlines is the quasi-religious focus on punctuality,” he wrote in a recent post.

According to Walther, the pandemic has degraded airline punctuality. Not only that, almost all the parameters airlines use to grade various aspects of their business need a re-examination.

Kanika Tekriwal, founder and CEO of online marketplace for private jets JetSetGo, believes that on-time performance (OTP) is, more than anything, used as a marketing tool in these times. “Some of the airlines deliberately under-promise and over-deliver. Ultimately it is more about internal scheduling,” Tekriwal told BusinessLine.

Timeliness over friendliness

Walther argues that a considerable portion of business meetings will now be held virtually. Hence, a 30-minute delay on a business trip will bother only a small number of people. Airline punctuality, he holds, is an “airline-selfish” quality indicator. Instead of passengers, it puts an airline’s flight at the centre of analysis.

What then should be the indicator of efficiency for an airline? One way out would be to bundle on-time performance with the passenger satisfaction index. When passenger feedback on issues such as in-flight service is combined with punctuality parameters, it will probably lead to a comprehensive measure of efficiency.

Abhilash Varkey Abraham, a research analyst on aerospace, defence and security practice for business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, agrees that this is the way forward. “Rather than replacing it (on-time performance index), a passenger satisfaction index can be added to provide an overall outlook of any particular carrier.”

Airlines globally are focusing on regaining the lost demand for travel through additional health and safety measures. A passenger satisfaction index will indicate the airline’s ability to win back passengers; on-time performance and cancellation rates show how well the airline is planning its operations. Performing well on these parameters will enable the airline to position itself positively, says Abraham.

Airline analyst Anil Goyal believes that the bigger picture in the Covid-19 era includes customer engagement as well as complaints and fear resolution. “Traveller has questions and fears; the airline which addresses them will be able to retain the customer and increase their profitability,” he says.

While some Indian domestic airlines declined to comment, others like IndiGo believe that the focus on on-time performance will remain, but it could be enriched with data about safety parameters and other factors. However, they also leave it to the regulator, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, which puts out this data on its website, to come out with a comprehensive index.

GoAir’s former chief operating officer AK Sachdev states that with more than a third of India’s domestic airline traffic in the low-fare category, the scope for differentiation in fares is restricted. “That is why OTP becomes a valuable metric as far as passenger expectation, delight and perception are concerned. However, the airlines also have to weigh the costs of incremental improvements in OTP against the dent they would make in their already frayed budgets.”

Clearly, the post-Covid-19 era will usher in changes that will require a fresh set of parameters for airlines to remain relevant.

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Published on April 04, 2021
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