‘No-frills chic’ carrier IndiGo becomes India’s second largest domestic airline in just five years

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By Vivek Mayasandra

There’s no doubt that the low-cost carrier business model has boomed in the past decade. Focusing on innovation and enhanced experiences on top of the traditional low-cost model, ‘no frills chic’ airlines such as Jetblue and Virgin America have created a loyal following. In recent years, this concept has been spreading around the globe, albeit slowly, with start-up carriers such as Virgin Australia, Azul from Brazil and Japan’s Starflyer focusing on the passenger experience in order to differentiate themselves from established players.

In India, a very competitive market that is growing at the world’s second fastest rates, IndiGo has become the second largest domestic carrier by securing nearly 19 percent of the local market in just five years. According to IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh, the airline’s philosophy is “to make travel as hassle-free as possible — low-cost but high quality — and that’s why we are popular both with budget travellers and high-level corporations”.

Since its launch in 2006, IndiGo has been the fastest growing low-cost carrier in the world, while posting profits over the last three years. In the 12 months ending March 2011, the airline achieved a 25 percent profit margin on its operations, generating a profit of USD132 million. Traffic in the 2010-11 fiscal year grew with 39 percent, with average load factors above 80 percent. IndiGo ordered no less than 100 A320 aircraft when it started operations and in 2011 pushed for an additional 150 A320neos (for delivery between 2016 and 2025), as well as 30 more A320s, which besides for domestic growth are intended for international expansion.

Branding the passenger experience
IndiGo’s media campaign has focused more on customer service and less on pricing where it is hard to be competitive, and the airline’s avant-garde branding has been a major differentiator. Collaborating with branding agency Wieden + Kennedy, IndiGo has come out with campaigns focused around the no-frills chic concept. Cheeky print ads promoted IndiGo’s same-day return flights from major Indian cities, extra seat pitch (2 inches more than India’s industry standard) and new aircraft. IndiGo’s check-in counters feature banners saying “India’s Coolest Airline” and check-in queues have “Cut The Red Tape” signs.

In a country with limited Internet access, IndiGo chose to go ticketless from day one, offering customers web and mobile check-in facilities. Staff with so-called ‘Q-Busters’ – hand-held devices that print out boarding passes to minimize queues – offer passengers the capability to check in anywhere at the airport.

Wieden + Kennedy has also worked with IndiGo to develop inflight menus, safety cards, sickness bags, and other in-flight packaging designed to entertain passengers with a mix of functionality and fun. For example, IndiGo’s triangular paid-for ‘Airwich’ boxes, in the airline’s words, “double as a sandwich box and a new medium to feature interesting stories and cool illustrations that make meals enjoyable beyond a few bites.”

Focus on basics
IndiGo’s popularity with Indian passengers is based on more than just the airline’s cool factor and stylish air hostesses. The airline says it has an aircraft utilisation time of 11.5 hours per plane every day for its fleet of 50 aircraft, significantly higher than the industry average. The turnaround for each aircraft averages about 30 minutes, much swifter than other carriers. According to IndiGo’s president Aditya Ghosh, the airline’s “technical dispatch reliability is 99.91%” and flights “almost always reach destinations 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.” […] “Our record for impeccable punctuality has been responsible for success with corporations.”

International expansion
Besides growing domestically, IndiGo has just launched it first international routes. IndiGo had to wait for several years because Indian regulation requires that private airlines complete five years of domestic operations and attain a fleet size of 20 aircraft before being permitted to expand overseas. After kicking off with the Delhi – Dubai sector on September 1, the airline currently flies daily to Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore from both Delhi and Mumbai, to Muscat from Mumbai and has applied for permission to fly from Kolkata to Bangkok and Dhaka. Describing the carrier’s international plan, IndiGo’s Ghosh stated: “Basically, we are going to look at South-East Asia and the Middle East as our territory. That’s why Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore and Muscat will be our first few sectors, as there is a large Indian population in these markets”.

By differentiating itself as a reliable and service-orientated carrier, IndiGo shows that focusing on the basics, but also adding an element of fun into the travel experience, works.


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