Overdue brand reboot aims to rescue Air India’s battered image

NEW DELHI: Almost a year has passed since India’s largest corporation acquired it Indian Airlines Ltd., promises to turn it into a world-class airline. Reviving the airline and attracting passengers will not be easy.
An unprofitable 15-year operation has taken its toll. While Air India remains a premium operator in one of the world’s largest aviation markets, customer complaints about the standard decline have damaged the airline’s reputation. Reports of incidents like ants and rats on the plane, cockroaches in food and even a bat (animal, not a cricket) flying around the cabin mid-journey didn’t help.
tata corporation, which paid $2.2 billion to acquire Air India from the government, has a five-year transformation plan known as Vihaan – Sanskrit for New Dawn. UK-based FutureBrand was brought in last week to help with the reshuffle, which could include the removal of the airline’s “outdated” Maharajah mascot, local media reported.
“There is a desperate need to improve its products and services,” said Shashank Nigam, managing director of airline brand strategy firm SimpliFlying. “To win customers’ hearts and wallets, Air India needs to get it right. If you’re looking for a step change, that will probably come around 2024.”
Campbell Wilson, who moved from the low-cost division of Singapore Airlines Ltd. turned CEO of Air India in the summer, told reporters recently that the plane’s interior will be refurbished, including seats, cushions and carpets.
Nigam said Air India needs to position itself as a progressive brand that caters to young people, which is especially important given the young demographic and size of India’s population. Having previously considered itself a keeper of Indian culture and heritage, the airline has given the impression of being outdated and stuck in time, he said, adding that its fleet has old and “in urgent need of rejuvenation”.
As part of the revamp, new style rules were issued to cabin crew, including requiring male flight attendants to shave their heads if they have deep recessed hairlines or bald patches. Blond hair is “forbidden” for girls with short hair. Meanwhile, a huge aircraft order is also being fulfilled and the airline has leased dozens of planes.
In his biography Beyond The Last Blue Mountain, Air India founder JRD Tata said he wanted the airline’s service, food and brand image to be unrivaled, leaving passengers with no reason to complain. complain. He makes recommendations on issues such as tea color and optimal chair recline.
Air India is up against younger operators, with the likes of Akasa entering the market and Jet Airways Ltd. are aiming to return. IndiGo, operated by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd. control, dominate with low-cost services, accounting for more than half of the domestic market. Air India aims to account for 30% of India’s domestic and international passenger traffic in five years, compared with around 9% today.
Market share of leading Indian airlines
IndiGo 56.7%
Vistara 9.2%
Indian Airlines 9.1%
AirAsia India 7.6%
SpiceJet 7.3%
GoFirst 7.0%
Akasa Aviation 1.4%
*Source: DGCA
Tata said last week that its Vistara joint venture with Singapore Airlines would be merged into Air India, creating the country’s second-largest airline. Two other airlines under Tata – AirAsia India and Air India Express – will be merged into a single low-cost unit, streamlining operations.
Allan Schulte, Bain & Co’s head of Asia-Pacific airlines. logistics and transportation. “The benefit of India is that you already have a large domestic tourism base to start with and there are a lot of natural cost advantages.”

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Air India also competes with the likes of Emirates and Etihad Airways PJSC, which dominate outbound travel to and from India and are known for their high standards of service and aircraft. One advantage for the Indian airline is the ability to operate direct flights to the US and Europe, where it has many lucrative landing spots without having to transit through the Middle East.
Covid has hit India’s aviation market hard, like the rest of the world, but the situation is improving. In the first 10 months of 2022, India’s air traffic grew 59% from a year earlier to nearly 100 million passengers. In the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, this number was 118 million.
Anurag Singh, managing director of New Delhi-based consulting firm Primus Partners, said decades of government ownership have hurt Air India’s standards, but its experience and investment prowess. Tata and Singapore Airlines will help the airline overcome problems such as aging fleets, poor maintenance and poor management. .
The Vihaan program was originally intended to identify and resolve claims that tarnished the airline’s brand, including ensuring that customers get refunds for flights canceled during Covid. Complaints about problems like broken seats and faulty entertainment systems are still quite common.

Despite opponents, Air India has the best on-time performance among Indian airlines, at 90.8 percent, according to the nation’s aviation regulator. The airline is leasing more planes and ramping up staff training, with plans to bring in hundreds of cabin crew and dozens of pilots as air travel recovers.
“It’s not an overnight initiative,” Wilson said in October. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”


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