Recently I had the good fortune [sic], to travel on the airline that claims to bring back the good times. After enduring many a bumpy ride on no-frills airlines, KF was truly a breath of fresh air.The crew on-board was a world apart from the standard stilletto-wielding Charlie’s-Angles [sic] (if you get the import of what I am saying) that sashay up and down the aircraft as air-hostesses. They even memorised some of the passenger’s names, and would append it to the the standard questions. I love mass customisation! 🙂
It all boils down to the mandate given by Doctor Vijay Mallya to the crew: “Treat the passengers like they were guests in my own home.” They have these little touches which are ingenious, e.g. the menu cards, and the give-away headphones and pens. Because of the menus, the passengers know what to expect in the meals and don’t have to hazard a choice on whether to opt for veg. or non-veg., something very essential if you are choosing between airline food. (Tip: Never ever opt for egg on airlines, especially if it is sunny-side up. It is invariably rubbery, and you end up being nauseous. But the cool thing was, the KF jalapeno omelette was pretty good: The spicy jalapeno made up for the temperature, and it wasn’t half bad.)
But the ultimate Mallya touch was the TV in every seat. If you sit down to analyse it, it’s pure genius. An apt analogy for an airline passenger is a recalcitrant kid, and depending on the airline, the air-hostess could be the mother in the scenario, or sometimes the evil step-mother who left Hansel and Gretel or the witch in the story herself, who is out to eat you. When you are dealing with 200-odd such personalities, it’s potential dynamite. If you add alcohol, which most airlines want to introduce on the domestic sector in the near future, you need to have something more than guns to rein them in.
Which is why, the TV – the opium for kids – comes in so handy. It starts with the safety procedures demonstration. In other airlines, you have bored air-hostesses rapidly pulling at the seat-belts, blowing at the life-jackets, etc. etc. trying to keep up with the female on the announcement machine, the entire performance making a lip-syncing Brinty Speers [sic] performance look like a well-executed Broadway production. Compare that to Yana Gupta, smiling at you, while she demonstrates the entire thing not once, but twice, once in English and Hindi, and the fact that you can’t avoid it, because it’s right in your face. (And though it is actually dubbed, you can’t make it out. What did you say? How did I make it out then, huh? Yana Gupta speaking in Hindi.. yeah right. Even Sonia doesn’t speak Hindi that good.)
The TV extends its usefulness to during the aircraft as well. Passengers, esp. frustrated male ones who want the air-hostesses to fawn over them, are less likely to press the buzzer, if they have their own private thing going on; put in a few “intense” scenes, and he might not even realise the outside world exists.
It is amazingly intelligent for one more excellent reason as well. Most of the no-frills airlines, try to recoup their losses through other revenue streams, i.e., advertising wherever they can – behind the boarding cards, in the in-flight magazine, (and you thought it was there because they couldn’t see you getting bored. And to think I actually read every word of all the insipid articles in the magazine I fly each time.), in front of the seats, on the air-hostesses’ foreheads, etc.
Now with the TVs in Kingfisher, they have a separate channel for this. And they don’t realllly have to put up advertisements everywhere you look then because of this. You would realise how irritating it is if you have to stare at the same thing for 2 hours! Also, they can charge each advertiser much more because it’s not just a print ad anymore. And the costs of airing it? Virtually nothing for the airline. No removing of old posters and putting up new ones, no redesigning boarding cards, and reprinting everything etc. etc. Just upload the video on the machine and air the ad.
There was some problem in the TV system in one of the flights, because the entire thing decided to restart while we were watching an intense moment [;] during the movie “Dus Kahaaniyaan”, and the aircraft was suddenly filled with frustrated guys punching their seats, cursing the system which robbed them of their “good time in the sky.” 😀 Except me, of course. No, seriously. I was in raptures, because when the system started coming back online, the screen started spouting Linux boot-up stuff. Sigh….
It was obviously a modification of the Debian 2.1 stable, made by a company called Thales (which apparently is a major defence systems company), and it was running on ancient 333 Mhz processors. From what I could make out, each row of 3 seats had been assigned one CPU, with all the 3 screens on different terminals. Each of them was running the X-server, and the entire system had been modified to take in only the inputs from the remote control. There was a video-server, which could have been a cluster, with the programs stored on it. There were 16 channels on the system, eight of them video and eight of them audio channels, which were sent out as streams on an Apache HTTP server.
You know what this means: if they work on it a little more, they can even modify the in-flight entertainment systems into a public computer terminal which you could use to check your mail or even Skype. Just imagine the deluge of business people, if they decided to do this. Of course, it would be super-slow, but something is better than nothing. Maybe they could make ports for Blackberries and PDAs as well. The possibilities are limitless!
Sadly, the movie didn’t restart by the time we landed. Now I know why Delhi is so frustrated. Batti chali jaati hai ain mauke par!
But, what I really liked about the in-flight entertainment system was that they had a camera right in the front of the aircraft, and you could see what was going in the front of the plane on the TV. Now this is something incredible and scary because you can see the plane going off-track when the plane lands, and the pilot scrambling to get it back: something which you would have never known if you didn’t see it.
But it is a lot of fun seeing the plane take off: one moment you have the airport wall coming really fast to crash into you, and the next you are airborne seeing the tops of trees and cars and buildings.. and then clouds. When we landed it was night-time, and you could see very clearly the roads of Delhi, and if you concentrated a little you could even make out where you were, and how the plane lands just inches away from the tops of the cars… it gives you that roller-coaster feeling.
Me.. I wanted to watch that chap who waves the plane to the right spot, with all the hand-waving. Turns out it’s pretty easy to wave a plane in. First you have to get the pilot’s attention to turn in the right parking bay; no specific protocol for that. Once that’s done, you wave the hand in the direction you want the plane to veer towards, i.e. wave the hand towards the pilot’s right if you want him to turn right (the pilot’s right), or vice-versa. Wave both hands to keep a straight course, and cross them to make him stop.
And then you have to move away. But our man took out his pocket comb, and to the amusement of 250 passengers, started combing his non-existent bangs blown away by the engine exhaust. Well, you never know where your charm might work…
Another airline that comes close is Indigo. I like them frankly because they have this cool logo, and the planes that I have gone in, are brand new. They now have instead of “No Smoking”, signs that say “No Electronic Devices”, since all flights do not allow smoking now. They also have good sandwiches, not the sorry stuff they serve on Spicejet. They don’t even have a choice between Veg. and Non-Veg on Spicejet, just Veg. and it tastes uggh. Indigo is clever but sometimes they act overtly clever which is irritating, like when they charge an extra Rs. 50 for the seats next to the emergency exit, which is an essential for a tall guy like me on these scrunched economy flights. As a result, nobody took the emergency exit seats on the flight.
The SpiceJet guys give them to me without a peep, every time, except if they are gone already. Of course the KF guys don’t have to do anything like that. None of their seats are shitty. All of them have ample legroom, and my knee doesn’t end in somebody’s pancreas if that chap decides to recline. Besides, who cares about legroom, when you have TV. 😀
The best thing about Indigo is that it is never ever late, unlike Spicejet which is giving the Indian Railways serious competition in this department.
But, as a footnote, I must add that one of my friends has had a bad experience with Indigo. One of my friends brought a rather large suitcase with him on the flight, and as baggage handlers are wont to, they dropped it from the cargo hold right on to the truck… only problem: the truck had long gone from the spot where my friend’s suitcase was destined for, and it went splat on the tarmac.
They took a long time in re-assembling the suitcase, while my friend waited it out at the conveyor belt till long after all the passengers from the same flight had collected their baggage and left. As soon as the last passenger had left, so that even my friend created a ruckus, none of the other passengers would come to know, the Indigo chap comes in with a very stupid look on his face, sweating in the middle of winter, saying that “Sorry sir, but your suitcase fell.” Repeated enquiries of whether that meant the suitcase was damaged only led to more “Sorry sirs”, and personal guarantees that the suitcase wasn’t damaged, and because of this, they absolved themselves of any wrong-doing.
This is the worst possible way to handle an irate passenger in the middle of the night, and that too after you have made him wait the entire time alongside the conveyor belt, without informing him about the problem. The least they could have done was to make an announcement, right when they knew something was wrong, let the passenger vent his anger and frustration at that moment, and let him assess the damage for himself. To top it, if they even paid for the taxi fare, it would have made the passenger happy, but that is probably asking for too much.