The Singapore Airlines group now has 5 brands in play in India, 4 of them for international travel & 1 (Vistara) for domestic travel. Here is a table that summarises my sense of their brand / offerings strategy for international flights:
Travelocity is coming through (and not just by buying up Indian companies) – looks like they have some of the better flight deals in the region. I recently found a Bangalore – Singapore return (economy of course) on Singapore Airlines for Rs 11,200. And a Bangkok return for 13,600. Both of which are better than the normal fares offered by m0st travel Agents.
So, if you have the time (or the necessity!) to do research f0r good flight deals, I suggest Travelocity India.
Anyone who has used Indian airports know that most of them are truly terrible. And if you have ever read the various international surveys of airports across the world, you will know that India’s airports always make up the tail end of these lists. Quite clearly, the Indian airport scene is bad.
The new Kochi airport was heralded as the beginning of the brave new world. Unfortuantely, Kochi airport to my mind is the absolute worst structure of airport management that has been devised yet. Let me tell you why.
There are 2 ways of running an airport. The first is the traditional way where the government runs it and where everyone using it is miserable. The second is where the government finds out that it knows very little of running modern airports and gets a specialist, private sector operator to run it on a day-to-day basis.
Kochi airport unfortunately has got the wrong end of the stick. In a peculiar parody, the money for the new Kochi airport has been put up by private sector investors and its operational management is in the hands of government bureaucrats and the public sector. In fact, most of the operations at the airport is managed by Air India, one of the world’s worst airlines (ranked in the bottom ten by Zagat). Pretty crazy, huh?
Asia is awash with low-cost international airlines and many of them are already flying into or are about to fly into India. And so, if you are looking for an international holiday ex-India, the place you must start your search with is a low c0st airline.
Tiger Airways flies from bangalore – I flew with my family on Tiger last winter and we got a delightfully cheap fare to Singapore (Rs 9000/- return per person). I checked again recently for summer and it is as good. This April, you can take Tiger from Bangalore to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) via Singapore for about 15k return.
Another low-cost to watch for is Air Asia, the Malaysian low-cost. Their inaugural sector from India is ex Trichy (and, no that is not in Cambodia, my metrosexual friend – it is in Tamil Nadu). You can fly Trichy to KL for a little over 11k return.
Going westwards, there is Air Arabia. Well discounted fares can take you to Sharjah from a number of airports India – Ahmedabad to Sharjah should cost you about 10 to 11k.
The good thing about these low-costs is the fact that most of them have new aircraft, which beats flying the aging fleet that is generally used by the full service guys ex India. The drawback is their lack of ‘service’, the worst of which is the draconian inflexibility on your bookings.
And so, if you want to set new standards for personal decadence in these times of recession, here is a thought. Fly a low-cost to a big international Asian city. Then check-in to the nearest Four Seasons for some serious pampering. Just remember, these days even the Four Seasons are probably open to negotiating rates.
Rumour had it that Paramount airways was good on service, so I decided to desert Jet Airways for once on my trip to Chennai. Bad idea. I got a call late at night from Paramount airways saying that my next morning’s flight to Chennai was ‘cancelled for commercial reasons’, which all of us know means they did not get enough passengers for them to feel obliged to operate the flight.
So, I dug a bit deeper. Seems this is a frequent occurrence. Many people I know in Chennai now tell me that the on-board service in Paramount is good – provided, you are lucky enough for the flight to actually operate.
For an airline that says it focuses on the business traveller, this seems a pretty rough reputation to acquire. Avoid it, if you need to defintely get to your destination on the date/time planned. If you are flying for a lark, it is of course a different matter.
Among ‘low-level ecstasies’ that I have spotted recently, finding yourself unexpectedly in a bulkhead seat with lots of legroom in the economy class of a very long international flight with no one occupying the 3 seats next to you and absolutely no babies in sight, is a pretty difficult one to beat. But then, world aviation today is so character-forming that occasional mercies merit joyous indulgence.
As I forsake business travel for leisure trips and consequently do more coach than upper class, my approach to flying is getting highly refined. John Playfair the British philosopher wrote (in another context of course – he did not have the advantage of modern long distance flying to sharpen his philosophical approach),
“It were unwise to be sanguine
and unphilosophical to despair”
While one can write reams of ‘how to’ tips on Flying, the good John’s snappy two-liner seems to pretty much cover it.
And, as I stood in queue with about 8 gazillion people for 2 hours in the Dubai International airport recently, trying to hand over my bag to someone in Emirates, I thanked ol’ John. ‘Twas good advice.
Incidentally, ‘low level ecstasy’ is a term coined by Bill Bryson, for which he gets my vote as the Philosopher of the Year. And while I am on the subject of giving credit where it is due, let me add that the John Playfair quote above is from Stephen Jay Gould’s book, Rocks of Ages. And just in case Mr Gould stumbles upon my blog : yes, I do think Rocks of Ages is an intriguing book – in spite of having phrases like Non Overlapping Magisteria.
I am just back from a quick business trip to Delhi which coincided with the coldest week in Delhi in 28 years. Not good news – but as luck would have it, the first day there turned out to be very cold but very sunny, which is a lovely combination. So, escaped unhurt.
For old times sake (and because they have a bloody early morning flight from Bangalore), I flew Indian Airlines, which has now been determinedly renamed Air India. Unfortunate. Because in the process, Indian Airlines, which I have always had a soft corner for, is really starting to resemble Air India, which according to me is unquestionably among the the 10 worst airlines in the world. So, here is an emotional requiem to Indian Airlines; RIP.
Among the obscene prices for hotels rooms in Delhi, I was able to wangle a slightly less indecent price (fairly crazy nevertheless) from the The Taj Palace hotel by booking a no-cancellation room, way ahead of time on the Taj Hotels website. It is always nice to stay at the Taj, because somewhere they have perfected the art of clean & efficient luxury service without the ‘looking-you-over’ approach of some Indian luxury chains, not the least of which is the Oberoi. Continue reading →