Air India is Now the Worst Airline Ever

It’s time for some sad, sad truth. Alitalia, long the worst airline ever, is no longer deserving of the title. Sure, it continues to lose a bunch money, but there simply isn’t the same level of awesome, headline-grabbing stupidity day-in and day-out. The time has come for a new king.

I tried to give the title to Mexicana while it was in its death throes, but something funny happened. It actually did the right thing and went out of business, so the title reverted back to Alitalia. But no more. It’s time to pass it on to a new, highly-deserving, poor excuse for an airline. The new worst airline ever?

Air India.

Air India Crowned Worst Airline Ever

If you’ve been paying attention to Air India over the last few years, this will come as no surprise to you. This is an airline torn apart by three different competing factors (government, management, and labor), all of which are doing a fantastic job of destroying the airline. Add in the massive increase in competition over the last few years, and you have a recipe for disaster . . . deliciously enjoyable disaster.

Despite this high level of suck, I have faith that Air India won’t leave me hanging like Mexicana did. No, I can’t see it going out of business. It will just continue soldiering on in bureaucratic purgatory for years and years. Maybe we’ll see a restructuring here or a little shell game there to make things look better, but Air India will hopefully be around for awhile. How bad is it? It’s bad.

I turned to Vinay Bhaskara (@TheABVinay), now a contributor to Bangalore Aviation, to make sure I had all the info I needed. He provided me with a silly amount of information along with links that helped build this very obvious case for glory (or lack thereof). Let’s look at the tape . . .

Government
While the government can talk a lot about how Air India needs to reform, a huge chunk of the problem lies with the government itself. See, India looks at the airline as its own personal toy. Government officials makes it fly wherever they want, and they hands out favors to those they like. Last year, the government actually gave out free first class upgrades and lounge access for LIFE to state secretaries and former ministers.

As if that’s not bad enough, former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel made Air India deploy a larger airplane on a flight to the Maldives so that his daughter could have a seat in business class. Here’s a great article on how Patel really did his best to put Air India in the terrible, terrible position it’s in today.

One of the biggest issues? The forced merger of mostly international Air India and mostly domestic Indian Airlines has been an uncompleted nightmare. This has been the most ridiculous merger in ages with very little merging having occurred and instead just continuing bloat and inefficiency with massive infighting between the two factions.

What does the airline get in return for all this government meddling? Not much. The government apparently owes the airline millions of dollars for its transgressions, but it won’t pay up. Instead, it just convenes a committee to figure out what’s going on.

Management
But don’t think that the government deserves all the blame. Management has had its share of incompetence. One of my favorite stories was about Air India spending millions on new tableware before realizing that it couldn’t use what it bought to actually heat the food. That’s a small mistake in the scheme of things but it’s quite telling of how things are (or aren’t) thought through.

That same greedy governmental grab for perks exists within Air India itself, including lavish spend on housing for its boss. The airline’s chief also upgraded his family despite telling others at the airline that they couldn’t do the same.

But there are much bigger mismanagement issues as well. How about the massive cargo operation that has to turn cargo away because it doesn’t have enough staff to unload it? This from an airline that has thousands and thousands of employees who simply do not need to be there at all. Those people apparently just aren’t in the right place.

The same thing happens with maintenance. Air India outsources some maintenance despite having slack capacity to do it in-house. It has thrown away money by shifting pilots back and forth in training without actually having them fly. And now it’s looking at expansion on ill-advised routes like Delhi to Melbourne. This is all like a bad dream.

Labor
Perhaps the most amusing Air India side-story is that between management and labor. Management gave in to the pilots thanks to a labor disruption, just like United did after the summer of 2000. The only difference? United was still making money at that point (though not for long), and the pilots wanted a bigger chunk. With Air India, the airline is bleeding and the pilots STILL want more cash.

There seems to be this entitlement feeling among the workforce that pay raises are in order regardless of the massive hemorrhaging in the airline’s financials. As long as labor gets what it wants, it assumes the airline will never go under.

The entitlement feeling seems to be pervasive. I really liked this story about a purser who delayed a flight because he wasn’t given a special meal that he had requested at the last minute. Sure, some complaints are legitimate, like severe understaffing. But at a time when Air India can’t even pay the salaries on the books, why push for more pay and then strike when you don’t get it? It’s like pulling the plug on your ailing grandmother even if she’s not necessarily a terminal case.

What Now?
So where does all this insanity leave the airline? Screwed. It’s broke, and it can’t run itself properly. Its small domestic route structure (excluding the Indian Airlines flights) managed a 22 percent load factor, though I can’t imagine we’ll see much change with this lumbering behemoth.

In May, it couldn’t even afford to pay the inflight entertainment fees and had to go dark on its long haul fleet until it was resolved. This is brilliant.

All of these problems have led to a huge embarrassment: the inability of Air India to get its act together in order to enter into Star Alliance. That would have brought a great deal of new revenue through partnerships in the largest alliance in the world, but that alliance got sick of waiting for the airline to stop sucking. The entry into Star Alliance is now off.

There’s talk of now trying for SkyTeam. If Aeroflot, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, and others can get themselves into this alliance, then surely Air India can, right? I wouldn’t be so sure. This airline is one giant mess. With little chance of much changing but also little chance of it going out of business, I’m feeling pretty good about transferring the title of worst airline ever to a most deserving airline.

Congratulations, Air India.


43 Responses to Air India is Now the Worst Airline Ever

  1. Rohit Rao says:

    I don’t really feel that this is a fair analysis – while it is a big mess, it’s getting better, and a LOT better. If you had said that AI should have qualified for this title a year or 2 ago, I would have agreed, but you picked a bad time to declare them worse than Alitalia (which seems to show that they have gotten worse in some way).

    A couple good things happened:
    1)They met joining requirements for an alliance – their IT is now infinetely better than it was, and their Frequent Flyer Program has improved a lot.
    2)They got a new Managing director – Arvind Jadhav was their old one and he was horrible. He didn’t know how to run an airline, and had a great ego. And he was fully willing to comply with the government’s demands. Fortunately, he got sacked a little over a month ago and the new guy is corruption free and actually doing a decent job in trying to trim unprofitable routes and improve fleet and crew utilization.

    Air India of recent times has had the reputation of being horrible until you are in the air, at which point it becomes pretty good. Their premium classes are competitive with many other world carriers, and their Y class is fairly comfortable as well. While I don’t expect things to magically become perfect, I am optimistic that Air India can turn itself around to become a competitive carrier in the long run.

    • Dr. A. Sen says:

      Dear Rohit,

      It is really good of you say positive things about the National Carrier, however the blog is absolutely correct with a worthy title. I assume that you are in the airline industry or a frequent flyer like me. I travel extensively around the world in various airlines and believe you me, Air India is worse than ever.

      As of last month, I made a complaint to AI Tokyo Office ( I live in Tokyo) about horrible situation of not getting even a glass of water for my son so that he can take is allergy medicine which, for him, is absolutely important. This is just one of the several incidences on a SINGLE flight !

      As like you, I still believe that things will change but for the present this blog is justified beyond any argument!

      Sincerely

  2. Jimmy says:

    Flying from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia was easily my worst flying experience. Obviously it’s a budget airline but the whole experience was terrible. This doesn’t even include the countless little fees they add during the booking process.

    • Sanjeev M says:

      Jimmy, Air Asia is different from Air India. Air India is full service and generous baggage allowance.

      Thanks Cranky for writing this. I knew an Air India post had to come sooner or later cause the situation is just that bad. AI honestly is the reason that EK is India’s de facto national carrier (53000 seats a week!). Kingfisher is not that strong either. We can only hope Jet Airways, Indigo, and SpiceJet step up on the international level.

      India is interesting in that it’s a very O&D focused market with several large domestic destinations, so a true banked or rolling hub hasn’t happened yet. Therefore the Indian airlines are spread thin and don’t have a focused operation in one place.

      People at Bangalore or Chennai don’t want to go to Delhi to go to Asia or Europe. This is why EK, EY, QR, GF, WY, SQ, TG, and MH make a killing off of secondary Indian destinations (aka not Mumbai or Delhi)

      The new T3 at Delhi has greatly improved flight connections for both domestic and international, but it doesn’t matter if the Indian airlines don’t provide decent connections in both directions.

  3. A says:

    Air India sounds a lot like the US Gov’t. Waste, corruption, mismanagement, etc. Nothing new to see here.

    • noble says:

      Lol, a lot like US govt??? U prolly meant ur india govmnt. The world’s number one corrupted and nasty country is nothing else, but India.

  4. Sanjeev M says:

    Something happened to my original comment. Cranky, I saw something about comment moderation but I don’t remember ever seeing that before.

    • CF says:

      Some comments get flagged for moderation for a variety of reasons. Sometimes my spam filter detects something. Other times, as in this case, I’ve keyed in certain words that trigger moderation. That’s because a certain company likes to spam me and always uses the same words. So you used one of those and it went to moderation. I approved it as soon as I could.

      • Sanjeev M says:

        Thanks for the note Cranky. Sorry for bothering you.

        • CF says:

          It’s not a bother. In fact, I really appreciate it when people send me notes if they don’t see their comments. Sometimes it doesn’t even go into the moderate pile and just falls into spam. So if anyone ever fails to see a comment go live, please email cf@crankyflier.com and let me know.

  5. Rui A. says:

    Alitalia no longer the worst airline ever? Oh well, it was a good title reign they had, but thankfully the merger with AF/KLM seems to be doing wonders for them. I’ll always remember the time I took a trip with them and they never even bothered to charge my credit card for…

  6. dave_dc says:

    Sky Team looks like it will also be picking up Aerolineas Argentinas, a Cranky fave if I remember. I guess it’s not too exciting since there are only 3, but maybe on their way to the worst alliance? If they wanted to lock it in, Sky Team could pick up Aerosur – one of 2 flag carriers in Bolivia, one private, one public owned. Bonus: all Bolivian residents over age 80 get free flights on Aerosur, domestic and international. Then how about Juneyao Airlines? One of their pilots last week lied to Shanghai ATC about being low on fuel so that they could land ahead of a Qatar Airways flight that really was low on fuel and asked for an emergency landing. Interestingly, the pilot was a Korean national.

    http://avherald.com/h?article=441d508b

    • CF says:

      There are a lot of airlines that qualify as bad airlines, but there needs to really be a complete and total meltdown across the board to be the worst. Alitalia certainly had that as did Mexicana in the end. I’d say that Aerolineas Argentinas is a perennial candidate for sure. Garuda was one, but they’ve seemed to turn things around for now. (It can always swing backwards again.) Some of these others are just the usual dumb state-run airlines but they don’t stand out from the pack.

  7. India has never been the best place for airlines. Back in the day of TWA flying to Bombay any money made in India had to stay in India by law. So TWA was forced to buy products made in India just so they could spend the money. So they would take up the cargo holds with cases of napkins or whatever else they bought to ship it out of the country to be used system wide. Spending money needlessly to purchase items not needed and turning away real money making cargo to fly those items out. Spending money needlessly/turning away money making cargo…sound familiar?

  8. Zack Rules says:

    I would say that dropping the Frankfurt scissors hub was an excellent idea. Competing directing against LH was crazy. Granted, there was talk of a Dubai hub (also crazy) but hopefully the new management will get smart on this one. What they should be doing (and what new management may well do) is dropping routes, consolidating the fleet, and otherwise making attempts to stem the losses from a management perspective. Unfortunately, that does not really solve the other two problems of gov’t and labor.

    • Sanjeev M says:

      The Dubai hub was a reference to basing an aircraft or three at DXB to facilitate maintenance issues or others on flights to and from India. AI and AIX operate to at least 14 destinations from DXB to India and almost rival EK in terms of seats. (I think AIX even makes money!) I don’t believe that AI was actually thinking of onward flights to Europe and North America.

      Unfortunately for AI, most of its demand to India is from North America and the UK (cause that’s where all us Indians are), which is not the greatest for fleet utilization from India. EK and QR will always beat AI at Europe because they are geographically closer and can funnel people straight from secondary European destinations to secondary destinations in India. (e.g. MAN-DXB-AMD or ATH-DXB-TRV)

      What AI needs to do is to use DEL to connect to secondary Chinese and SE Asia and destinations like Hanoi and Chittagong that QR and EY can’t touch with an A320. Then facilitate timely connections at DEL to India domestic, the Gulf, and use the 27 787’s for Europe (and possibly Africa)

  9. Oliver says:

    “Let’s look at the tape . . .”

    Indeed.. Here are some recent photos: http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/cabin-conditions.17097/

    I am surprised that it took *A so long to come to the conclusion that admitting Air India would probably be a bad idea.

  10. Pretty amazingly bad. I had read much about *A backing out, but I had no idea.

    You mentioned Garuda Indonesia with some implication of lesser “suck”. I flew them recently between DPS & SIN on a flight that couldn’t have been more than a quarter full. Great for me (except the food was straight-up nasty), but I can’t imagine it’s good for them. Is this an improving or declining airline…or neither?

    • CF says:

      Garuda actually has really turned it around, though it’s not a beacon of success yet. It’s at least going in the right direction.

  11. Bobber says:

    Did Air India eat Indian Airlines?? I used to love flying with them – great gulab jaman!

  12. Trent880 says:

    It’s especially sad when you consider that all in all AI really has some great ingredients: fleet, new DEL hub, the best international network by far of the Indian carriers–it really could steal back a good third of the GCC carriers’ traffic, if not more. But no, AI constantly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

  13. You are a brave man tackling this subject. There are a lot of patriotic Indians. I got abused on my blog recently for saying there was no way that Air India will start flying a MEL-Delhi B787 in October, 2011 (looks like I am fully correct on that one!).

    Mergers of domestic and international carriers are always tricky, add a lot of self interest in the national carrier and status connected to it and you do have one heck of a mess.

    Its interesting that Kingfisher is struggling so much…what did they do wrong?

    • CF says:

      I think Kingfisher is just run by a rich guy with an ego so it’s not necessarily about smart business decisions for them.

  14. Jim says:

    My grandpa still talks fondly of the days when Air India was one of the best airlines in the world, founded by the great Parsi businessman J. R. D. Tata. I knew the airline was currently facing problems, but I had no idea it was this bad.

    The problem is that the Indian government is far too corrupt to effectively reform the airline. Privatization is the only option. However, that probably won’t happen either. My guess is that the other airlines in India will slowly expand internationally and take Air India’s passengers, and the airline will keep limping along.

  15. Jim says:

    My grandpa still talks fondly of the days when Air India was one of the best airlines in the world, founded by the great Parsi businessman J. R. D. Tata. I knew the airline was currently facing problems, but I had no idea it was this bad.

    The problem is that the Indian government is far too corrupt to effectively reform the airline. Privatization is the only option. However, that probably won’t happen either. My guess is that the other airlines in India will slowly expand internationally and take Air India’s passengers, and the airline will keep limping along like the USPS.

    • I don’t think the USPS is quite a fair comparison. They at least are taking efforts to modernize their infrastructure, and if you look at what they do for the amount of money they do it for, they’re actually pretty damn good at their job..

      • Jim says:

        I was making the comparison because USPS and Air India are both subject to political pressure and have to keep unprofitable post offices open or keep flying unprofitable routes in order to satisfy the government of the day. But I agree with you that USPS is trying harder to reform than AI, and is more likely to succeed.

  16. Why can’t people be held responsible for their shear Incompetence, most cause this mess then walk away with money and usually corruption funds intact, meanwhile jobs and everyone else is decimated,
    Most commentators are always talking up India as the second biggest emerging power, myself I can,t see it, and Air India is the proof why…….

  17. Bill says:

    “Worst Airline Ever” is an extremely dubious title. Interesting because Kingfisher is well regarded. Kingfisher is one of only 7 airlines worldwide to be awarded 5 stars from Skytrax.
    Perhaps a re-branding for Air India is in order before pulling the plug on it. Here’s a GREAT advertising slogan from “The Simpsons”. “Fly Air India. We treat you like cattle !”

  18. BJ says:

    Now Alitalia have nothing! Not even the Cranky worst airline award. It was the only award they ever had – I think it may have appeared on their advertising at one time “Alitalia – You’ve Flown the Best and Rest, Now Fly the Worst”

  19. Patricia says:

    As you know, Cranky, AirIndia won my vote for this title 8 years ago. Never again!

  20. tharanga says:

    I think the domestic AI routes are all tag-ons to international routes. What I don’t understood is how exactly these flights work. I’ve heard that local passengers can use them; they just tend not to. but i’ve also heard that the passengers arriving at the first indian stop don’t need to clear passport control and customs if they’re continuing on the tag-on. I don’t know how both things can be true. Maybe they aren’t.

  21. Sanjeev M says:

    Tharanga, domestic passengers can use them, but they must go through Indian immigration both departing and arriving as though they were leaving India. Therefore, no local passengers actually use them.

    The flights are international flights between the international terminals of two Indian airports. Confusing, right?

  22. Random says:

    Just want to agree with Jimmy, Air Asia is the worst airline ever! I know, it’s a budget airline so you have to expect to pay for every extra like checked luggage but they are really the worst in that matter! Their booking process is plain evil! They try the hardest to get you to unintentionally buy extra insurance, pay for seat preference, and alike. And then of course there is a check in fee if you don’t check in online, and where as they tell you that check in is open until 45min before departure, the bar code from the online check in has to be scanned 1h before. So if you should ever book an Air Asia flight, account about 3h to read all the fine print and triple check all the information. My suggestion tough, pay the extra bucks and support an honest airline instead.

  23. Pingback: The Financial Mess That Is Kingfisher (Guest Post) - >> The Cranky Flier

  24. Wow, I can’t wait to NEVER fly with Air India! A good friend of mine had a business trip to India a few months ago but I didn’t ask her who she flew with, I definitely will now! Just the fact that they slack on their maintenance fees is enough to scare me off. I’m not a fan of flying anyway.

    -Lizzy

  25. Claire says:

    I have had one of the most tragic and scary moments of my life because of Air India’s mistrustful system. Our flight got cancelled 5 hours before the flight, they provided no no back up for us, did not supply us with any hotel service for their inconvenience, the representation at the counter was horrible AND they lied to us when they finally gave us a connecting flight (stopping in London) where we found out that there was NO flight from London to Canada at all. The Air India representatives were not even present at Heathrow Airport! More than 100 angry, hungry and hopeless fliers could not find anyone to help. Even if Air India paid me, I wouldn’t use their flight.

  26. AIR INDIA IS WORST AIRLINE OF THE WORLD AND CUTOMER CARE SYSTEM OF AIRLINE IS SO BAD THAT TODAY 25/07/2012 I HAVE CALLED AT LEAST 100 TIMES 0124 2877777 FOR A PROBLEM WHICH I WAS FACING REGARDING MY BOOKING WITH AIRLINE FOR A ROUND TRIP DELHI AMRITSAR NOBODY REPLIES ON THIS PHONE.I WOULD LIKE TO SAY “BE INDIAN BUY FOREIGNER”

  27. Hart says:

    Yes it is the worst,i have also a bad experiance, once i booked a ticked from dubai to calicut, It was connection flight through Bombay. and mention in the ticket the same.As expected from dubai, it was late for 1 hour, then reached at bombay, from there we came to know we have to carry our laggage ourself to the connection flight which is very far away from the international terminal and nobody was there to assist or to help us to carry our lauggage. Then in the airport i found lot of air india staffs are simply walking and enjoying there, and nobody was there to recieve our complient, when we complient regarding the subjected matter, they were replying “here it is normal”.how ever we reached in the flight and it landed in another aiport at coimbatore which was not mentioned in the ticket.then 45 min waiting there. then we reached at calicut.was horrible expierinace.

  28. Lol – I flew Alitalia Boston – Rome last year and while boarding was chaotic the flight and teh food were fantastic. I’d take them any day over United or Lufthansa in Business Class.

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