‘I Wish Tatas Make Air India As Good As Their Vistara’

Debashree Mukherjee, 39, an HR Professional and a frequent flyer, says if Tatas can turn around a debt-laden Air India, it will be the revival story of the century

Before the pandemic struck, my husband, daughter and I used to travel a lot, both within the country and abroad. In the domestic circuit, Air India and Tata Group’s Air Vistara were most often our chosen carriers. However, for international routes, we didn’t prefer Air India because better services were available at the same price in other airlines. If we could transfer/interchange flyer miles to other airlines, we would do that too.

So when the Air India’s acquisition by Tata Group was announced recently, I felt connected. Given how people-oriented Tata’s policies are, I know that the current employees won’t be left in the lurch (unlike say the scenario at Jet many years ago). Having said that I am skeptical of the profitability of Air India. I don’t doubt Tata’s efficacy but I feel that Air India’s condition is very, very difficult and it will be mighty challenging for even Tata to pull it off.

The debt-laden airlines is in the best hands I believe, but is the best good enough? If Tatas can turn it around, there cannot be a better revival story than this. And given the fact that it was Tatas who started Air India before it was nationalised, maybe the emotional connect will bring about some solid changes. Tatas will have to be ‘disruptive’ if they believe that Air India can be brought back to its original glory.

Mukherjee says travelling is an experience be it for business or vacation

Travelling is an experience, be it for recreation or business and Air India needs to tap into that. A certain spark is missing in the airline, though we preferred it so far because of the extra facilities it provided – like an extra 10 kg baggage allowed in comparison to other airlines or an extra 30 kgs if you are a Star Gold member as well as complimentary meals.

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But how often do we need to travel with such heavy luggage? Not many times. Air India will need to be more people-centric and customise its services, which I believe Tatas can do. Even though there are confirmed complimentary meals, the food quality could definitely be enhanced.

While in domestic travel, the leg room in Air India is the same as all other airlines, when it comes to long-distance international travel, Air India has less leg space than other airlines. We travel business class and relaxation is right up there on our priority list as a family, since my little girl also travels with us.

Air India has come to represent India with its involvement in various difficult rescue missions, and I believe even after it is privatised, the sentimental value will continue to be there. I believe that will play an important part in rebuilding brand Air India.

And given how much I enjoy flying Air Vistara, run by Tata Group, if they can revive Air India and bring it at par with Air Vistara, none would be happier than me. Vistara has new world amenities, amiable and cooperative attendants and customised, good quality food services. The most recent flight that I took was with Vistara around September end and even in these times of pandemic, it was a good experience.

I sincerely hope the skies open up completely like before and we are free to travel the world again and explore its wonders.

Weekly Update: Air India Boomerang, A Neta’s Privilege & Richer Ambani

The one thing Air India has become good at is going around the world and at each stop collecting debts. Daily it clocks up $3 million loss for the Indian taxpayer. Now it has decided to go back to base and stop this addiction. That is it has gone back to the point when it first started conflating financial loss with nationalism. It is back home now with the Tatas where it was cocooned and spent its growing years. After a 68-year spree of carefree ‘awaragardi’ it is going to become a responsible airline.

JRD Tata started the airline back in the 1932 and named it Air India in 1948. It was a good airline with growing reputation under the Tata family business. However another family owned business, the Congress Party, probably fancied the name Air India and wanted the brand under it. Although not having enough money, the Congress Party had the power of the State in its hand. So it nationalised Air India in 1953. A lot of good and well working industries, institutions, banks and political entities were nationalised by Nehru’s family over the years with disastrous results.

Air India started well as a national carrier for a while but then started working like the Government. It became a creaky machine, haemorrhaging money and rewarding privilege. The losses started to nose dive into a bottomless pit.

The BJP Government under Narendra Modi, not yet run by a family, saw no advantage in burdening the nation further. The accumulated debt is already some ₹70,000 crore which is nearly $8 Billion, no mean sum. Moreover the family run party has lost both power and financial muscle, so Air India could be freed from serfdom.

Tata Sons as Talace Private Ltd have bought it back from the Government for $2.7 billion. They are happy they have their baby back after it was wrestled away, adopted and abused by the State. Question now is whether Tatas will be able to nurture it back to a responsible, financially viable healthy grown up airline able to compete with the best. Tatas have shown they can both manage and grow world brands, as they have done with Jaguar Land Rover, once a crown jewel in Britain’s manufacturing. With that record, if anyone can resuscitate Air India’s battered, bruised, tortured financial life back into some meaning, the Tata group can.

The Neta Privilege

People saw him. He has allegedly been videoed on site. He has been named by victims and witnesses as the driver or the instigator of the most heinous yet stupid turn of events in the long running farmer’s dispute. Yet Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra, says he wasn’t there.

Even with videos flying around the world showing cars ploughing in and eight people dead, the Uttar Pradesh government’s response to the black and white crime was, ‘we will set up an enquiry’. Inquiry is a convenient tool learnt from Colonial times to stifle proper police investigation and even throw the issue into an abyss of ‘political do nothing’.

It was the Chief Justice of India who intervened suo moto, meaning that the Supreme Court initiated a case itself. CJI NV Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hema Kohli form the bench. The SC sent notice to Uttar Pradesh Government for an update on the FIR. It was also not impressed by the ‘Special Investigative Team’ as all the personnel were from Uttar Pradesh and obviously under that government. A day later the SC enquired why the chief suspect had not been arrested.

The Neta’s son did not attend the first summons by the police. A second summon was sent and realising that he would have to be arrested now that the SC was involved, the son went to the police. How many crime suspects have the luxury of ‘walking’ at will into a police station?

Despite a team of experienced interrogators, Ashish Mishra (the Neta’s son) failed to answer questions. So they put him under arrest. The arrest is not for ‘suspected act of terror’ not even ‘suspected murder’ but merely for not answering questions!

Meanwhile, the Neta himself has been busy making excuses for his son. First that he was not at the scene saying, ‘He would have been killed if he were there!’ Then he said son was at a family-sponsored function in the village. And explaining the failure to attend the first summons, that the son was ill.

The incident witnessed by many, if not hundreds, was that Netaji’s son’s four wheeler deliberately ploughed into peaceful demonstrators walking home. Four farmers were killed. The crowd then turned onto the vehicle and its owners. The driver and two BJP members were beaten to death by the crowd. Eye witnesses say that Ashish Mishra was either driving or forced his driver to drive into the crowd. Mishra himself escaped.

The incident has put a spotlight on the BJP government and the PM himself. Will he stand by his promise not to be like Congress Family Raj and sack the junior minister as well as allow the wheels of justice to act unhindered or will be protect the ‘extended BJP family’ as Congress used to do? Prime Minister Modi’s integrity is on line as well.

And Ambani Joins Bezos

While more people are becoming poor in India especially due to the pandemic, there is some good news. Mukesh Ambani has become richer by $23.8 Billion last year. He now joins the very select group of people in the world with over $100 Billion assets, such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

This will be welcome news to many people in India sleeping rough on the streets and who are still waiting for a decent roof over their head, access to clean water and a decent meal a day. Or they may not notice any change in their lives.