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Five Tips For Surviving India's Budget Airlines

For the last few days I have been flying a mixture of high and low cost carriers (though the opposite of low is not high by any stretch) and I feel confident enough to put down a small survival guide. I welcome you to add/subtract to this list. Hopefully we will have a useful Indian budget air travel guide at the end of it !!!

Choose the right Low Cost Carrier (LCC)

I am a great admirer of Capt G R Gopinath but his airline is a no-no as far as I am concerned. I like time-bound arrivals and departures even on holidays and personal visits and Air Deccan has not delivered on this count. I speak from personal and collective experience here.

Actually, Air Deccan (they do fly sectors others do not) is okay if it’s the first flight out in the morning. These are usually on time. But first flights are usually at 5 am or thereabouts. For people like me, that’s last night. Spice Jet and GoAir seem to be doing pretty okay on schedules, from my own experience.

Always ask friends and colleagues about their experiences. Ask only one question. Was it on time or not ? If not, was it the airline’s fault or ATC etc etc. My advice is to use punctuality as the ONLY benchmark in your assessment. The rest does not really matter.

Takeaways

1. Punctuality over everything else
2. Choose the early morning flight if you don't trust the airline to be punctual
3. Visit both travel as well as airline websites
4. My choice of aircraft..Boeings are a little more comfortable and agile than Airbuses


Ticketing And Fares

All airlines have pretty robust ticketing platforms, including Air Deccan. So you can buy your ticket online quite effectively without any hassles. And they do get honoured when you land up at the airport. If there are any problems here, I am not aware of them. Facilities like choosing your seat do not always work. On Spice Jet for instance, I’ve found that the java application does not run all the time.

On fares, remember that Air Deccan is not necessarily the lowest. So, do browse through sites like www.travelguru.com (my friends) or other ones like Makemytrip and cleartrip. They all seem competent.

If you don’t always want to go the internet way, use call centres. They are quite efficient and can take you through the process of choosing ticket, airline, giving you some basic advice and so on. Again, I’ve only used Travel Guru which I am happy with. I am pretty some of the others would be good to.

Tickets are typically emailed to you. Its possible you might get a better deal that what you got on the airline’s website but its not likely to be killer one. The advantage is that you can enquire after special offers, packages and the like. Increasingly, you can book hotels as well. I did so for a personal trip to Hyderabad this time and the hotel was a good budget one and everything went smoothly. I didn't have to pay because I had already given by CC details to Travel Guru.

Travel firms or agencies help when you need tickets in a hurry. Or want to cancel and rebook. I did that once from Bangalore airport if I recall correctly. I cancelled my delayed flight, checked out the best fares that were on offer (for flights in the next two hours) and booked another ticket. All in about three minutes. I then walked over to the airline counter to collect the ticket ! Remember, for all the sophistication on the internet front end, the back end is like any other travel agency !

Takeways

1. Start by scanning the travel websites
2. You could use the travel website/agency to look for deals. You could get good budget hotel deals as well.
3. Call the travel website helpline to work your way around.
4. Always visit the airline website to see if the deals match
5. Credit cards are safe, at least I think so.

Departure

This is the tricky part and can call for considerable mental and physical preparedness. Let me give you an example. I was flying Spice Jet from Delhi to Hyderabad a few days ago. I reached the airport an hour and ten minutes before departure. I spent roughly 20 minutes in the line for baggage screening, 40 minutes in the line (systems were down for 10 apparently) for check-in and another 15 or 20 for security check. Not adding up ? Of course not. The flight took off late, not because of air traffic or fog but airport congestion.

Now,I catch the same Spice Jet flight back from Hyderabad to Delhi the next morning. This time, I spend 2 minutes in line for baggage screening, 1.30 minutes at check-in (there was no one ahead of me) and 3 minutes at security check. Is there a pattern here ? To some extent possibly. Delhi airport is a bloody mess. GMR (the chaps who run the airport) have cleverly segregated low cost from high cost.

Either way, its good to be mentally geared. And its not the time factor only. Be ready to confront bawling babies, stressed out mothers, countless parents scurrying after restless children, family members shouting for each other and minor bruising from baggage trollies as they brush past you.

The good news it that quite likely you will meet a fellow traveler who too is rolling his or her eyes at all of this. So you can strike up a conversation on budget airlines in general and maybe other things of mutual interest in specific. Years of Shaolin Temple training in patience and silence ensure that I am not the first to plung into such conversations. I do go along if approached though.

Takeways

1. Gear up mentally before you leave for the airport. Meditation might help.
2. Reach at least 1.5 hours before. You could reach 1 hour before but be ready to race around like a headless chicken.
3. You could be surprised too, the way I was at Hyderabad.
4. Remember, the LCC terminal will resemble an inter state bus terminal or railway station.
5. Prepare to meet all sorts of folks. Enjoy the experience. Think of it as a microcosm of India etc.
6. And yes, the bus ride to the aircraft will most probably be in a scavenged and retrofitted state transport bus. There will be no aircon and it will wait to fill up, rather than rush off with small batches. Just like the ST buses.

On Board

Actually, this is the easiest part because there is little given or taken. You might be served some bottled water (smallest size)and VERY light snacks like a biscuit. Or maybe you could buy some food. Either way, do NOT go in expecting four-course dinners. I am surprised how many of us still do. Come on, you can’t pay Rs 1 + taxes for a Delhi – Mumbai flight (or wherever) and expect food. Bring your own.

Air Deccan has free seating. Not sure about all. So remember you have to make a run for it. If you have travelled in Mumbai locals as I have, this is the easiest part. Just don't try and jump into the aircraft or out before it reaches the tarmac, as you might into or out of local trains leaving and approaching Churchgate station.

Takeways

1. Carry food, water if you feel like mid-air meals.
2. Do not expect any inflight service, except water.
3. Don't expect flight attendants to rush to you when you jab the button. Not that they do in high cost carriers either.
4. Carry reading material. Mostly, there will be no newspapers. Expect one inflight magazine which should take you roughly 2.5 minutes to complete.


Arrival

Not much to report here. Baggage will take as long as anyone else, though some airlines are faster at baggage extraction and dispersal. In the last two days I have spent roughly one hour waiting at the Delhi and Mumbai airport aprons for a parking bay..yes, I couldn't believe it, but turned out that neither could the pilot - of the Delhi-bound aircraft - who kept expressing shock and surprise !

Takeaways

1. The same ST bus will fetch you
2. Once in the exit terminal, you will mingle with passengers who've just arrived on high cost carriers. Don't know if you will feel good or bad about this
3. Once you step out of the terminal, you will be at the mercy of tough looking taxi drivers, credit card subscription agents and sundry touts. In this, you will be treated on par with your HCC passengers.

Happy Flying..

Comments

The beginings of a travel guide indeed. LCC and HCC are mentioned as common terminology and I just want to highlight that in the pasenger context it is justified to call an Airline LCC or HCC based on whether the ticket costs low or high.
For the Airline, there is no such thing, it is costing everyone more or less the same money to run the Airline. Would have been better if, in India, these carriers were called Low Fare (LFC) and Legacy (High Fare) Airlines. What drives costs down is better utilization of Aircraft and manpower, faster turnaround times, single aircraft types (usually) and quite a few other factors as well. LFC's and Legacy chaps are all paying the same fuel bills, same salaries (very high salaries!) and using the same terminal buildings and facilities and they cost the same. The bulk of your operating costs, therefore, remains the same. Anyway, this lecture is for another article.
This blog of yours is a good one and is useful for lots of flyers, first time ones or otherwise.
bhavesh said…
My recommendation would be to avoid Air Deccan.

Free Seating is something that is a pain. Come on, you check in early and get the best seat you want. You come in late, well you get the bad seat. But, expecting people to rush in and catch a seat is Crap!

maybe AirDeccan wants to prove that it is the Middle Class's flier in all ways , but even Trains have reservations! They need to change this stratergy.

And oh yeah, Just check makemytrip, AirDecccan is charging more than Spicejet and GoAir for my trip home to Mumbai from Bangalore, so Air Deccan is to be avoided at any Costs!!
Neelakantan said…
Another tip for Air Deccan. Fly Deccan only Tuesday through Thursday. Avoid Friday through Monday. Avoid late night flights :) you know why
Vippan said…
Recently I checked up on travel sites and found that there is no difference between fares of LCC and HCC. We were trying to find lowest fare for Delhi Ahmedabad return fare early Jan next year and Indian was one of the combination on cleartrip for lowest fare.

Of all the travel sites, cleartrip offers the best combination and it does the job of getting the cheapest combination for the customer.
shantanu dutta said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
shantanu dutta said…
Excellent write up... You should add in the arrival section that if you are planning to land in Delhi, budget an hour for hovering over the airport due to the congestion and factor that in while planning connections
susan said…
Very nice stuff you got here.. I LIKE!! Will def be back soon…also if you anyone here travels a lot or just likes to travel and save up some money (like me  ) you should check out Globester… very slick site with, awesome fare prices!!! I landed a sweet deal from California to London…a must see if u want the best deal on travel!!

http://globester.com

Check it out.. it costs you nothing.. you have to become a member first though..which is painless anyway..

Cheers mate!!
Kapil said…
Air Deccan has tried to be a southwest clone. However copying that model restricts growth. Other problems exist.

No secondary or cheaper airports to fly in or out of.

More than one kinds of aircrafts used. Raises maintenace costs. (Do not know if outsourcing maint. can reduce these)

High turn around time (Whose fault is it anyway. I know indigo starts cleaning the cabin inflight and has a turn around time of 40 minutes. It is still some distance away from less than 30 for SW which means one less flight per day. Jet and Sahara dont even come close)

One delayed flight leads to ripple effect due to airport congestion.

Even if common costs such as parking and fuel costs cannot be reduced, both LCC and HCC can do with better queue management at the airports.


Free seats in Air Deccan are same as in SW. For SW it ensures quick turn around time.

Most of all, SW is different because its HR policies support its operations. Its employees work more, get paid less but still do not shift jobs. They get paid back in LUV and fun.

Things would improve. But sadly it would be too late for some of the existing airlines
ankurg said…
when you buy ticket is also important. buying ticket at the nth hour often results in not even marginal difference in ticket prices. and then its better paying a few rupees extra and fly via an airline which might have better service and on time performance.
else never delay in buying tickets so that atleast LCC tickets are actually bought at LC.
Shantanu Ghosh said…
Excellent article! I have always travelled Jet and begun trying some of the new budet airlines only recently and didn't know what to expect.

My experience with SpiceJet has been very positive. No frills, but helpful support over telephone. The flights we used were on time and the staff polite and professional.
Venkat Ramanan said…
A good start!! I esp liked this line:

***5. Prepare to meet all sorts of folks. Enjoy the experience. Think of it as a microcosm of India etc.***
:-))

Yes, As Captain Anup Moorthy has said, in India there is a thin line separating the low-fare and legacy airlines since all use same kind of planes, airports, same fuel cost etc...
And Govind, is possible please remove anonymous comments posting!! It irks a bit to see anonymous comments!!
Nishant Gandhi said…
A very good post. Echoes my views quite completely.

A small additional tip - Avoid Air India late night domestic leg of their International flights, AT ALL COSTS. I have had the harrowing experience more than once, as I fell pray to the 'low fare' thing.

Jet/Kingfisher are the best FCC and Spicejet the best LCC. Haven t traveled on Indigo or GoAir so cant comment on them.

For best fare, do check www.ixigo.com as well. It is a content aggregator so gets you the best possible price combinations from all airlines.
Bharadwaj said…
Anup Murthy,

What a pompous talk. This blog is better than yours where you string a few photos together of grassfields and old planes, and stand in front of one grinning like a Cheshire cat!
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