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Why IndiGo has got a slap on its on-time reputation this winter

IndiGo had a rough day on Sunday. The airline recorded an On Time Performance of just 21%. The last few days have seen exceptional fog at Delhi, leading to flight delays and in multiple cases waiting for a bay post landing. The day ended with one passenger hitting the captain of the flight, only to be deplaned and taken away by the security forces.

IndiGo passenger assaults pilot amid chaos due to flight delays(Twitter )

Delhi has been faced with an exceptionally thick fog this winter and one which is lasting for longer hours than in the past but fog is not a new phenomenon and airlines in operations today barring Akasa Air have faced fog for years together.

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First, the challenge is with the airport. While Delhi airport boasts of having four runways and the only airport in the country to have those, the reality is that its workhorse – runway 10/28 has been out of operation for a long and the closure period has increased thrice in the past.

The fog period ranges from anywhere between mid December to early February and planning a closure of the runway which is Cat III B certified during this period along with not being able to get it back into operation on time has been partly responsible for the chaos that has ensued at Delhi.

This gets compounded by the fact that airlines board passengers and be ready for pushback waiting for visibility to improve. An aircraft gets its sequence number only when it is ready to pushback which means all passengers should be on board and doors closed.

What then begins is an unending wait for passengers as well as the crew and in some cases, leading to the Flight Duty Time Limitations coming into play leading to opening of doors again to replace the crew. The delays yesterday were so bad that the crew had spent their entire duty time at the same airport without moving an inch with the plane and passengers.

If the passengers are deboarded, it means that the passengers have to clear security again as per the rules of BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) which means losing the sequence. Additionally, the compounding delay adds up at other stations, where the passengers don’t even know that their aircraft is starting its day from Delhi.

Not only the airline, it is also in the interest of the airport to have more passengers in the plane waiting at the gate rather than within the airport where more and more people are pouring in by the minute and all flights are delayed.

Why IndiGo?

With every airline affected, the volume of complaints is in relation to size. IndiGo with 60% market share is bound to have more complaints over others when all other factors remain the same. However, IndiGo has always prided itself of being different and better and thus one wonders how IndiGo is at the receiving end of “will never fly this airline again”.

While IndiGo does not feature in the list of airlines who have received notice from the regulator DGCA for not rostering Cat III B compliant pilots, every airline has limited Cat III B compliant pilots. The thought of more airport standby crew – both cockpit and cabin would mean more crew have their duty times busted and unavailability for subsequent days.

However, no airline can hide behind the curtains of rules for rules were always known and so was the possibility of fog. Has the airline grown too big too soon? The airline let go of some employees as part of the pandemic. The airline has grown rapidly since then and not only recovered to pre-pandemic levels but also exceeded those in terms of both flights and passengers.

The challenge really comes from the lack of information or the lack of information in one go. Most complaints revolved around the flight being delayed by a certain period of time multiple times only to leave late at night. With conditions right in front of you, the limited release of information is what gets the passengers angry. Even though the exact time may be unknown, there always is a fairly decent prediction which is available across airlines.

Tail Note

What got IndiGo to this level, may not get IndiGo to the next level. It is not one of the top 10 airlines in the world by departures per day, a feat which it should be proud of. Departures alone cannot attract passengers, especially when there is competition in sight in the form of Air India group. The airline will have to redraw its SOPs if it has to maintain the edge it has always had.

IndiGo has been on the edge for a long time. A heavy storm in Delhi in February 2019 had led to multiple diversions and subsequent cancellations. The next few days caused a lot of upheaval in its network, after which the airline finally admitted that it would cancel up to 2% of the flights due to pilot shortage. The fall of Jet Airways within months of this storm led to the market changing drastically, which further changed during the pandemic.

IndiGo has always seen competition shrink, be it Kingfisher Airlines, Jet Airways or SpiceJet. This is the first time that it will see a massive capacity addition by competition and one which has deep pockets to sustain unlike the instances in the past where airlines tried competing which led to IndiGo adding capacity and reducing fares, eventually seeing the drop of competition from the route.

(Ameya Joshi is an aviation analyst)

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