How Vistara Handled An Accident And Gained A Lifelong Customer

Airlines, Travel

A little more than a year back (Aug 17, 2016) I was traveling with my family, including my old parents, from Mumbai to Delhi on an afternoon Vistara flight (UK 944).

While boarding the flight from the aerobridge at Terminal 2 in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, my mother, a near octogenarian, tripped on the 5-inch level difference between the aerobridge floor and the aircraft door

As she fell, she hit her head against a side panel inside the aircraft and got a nasty gash, about an inch long,  just over her left eyebrow. Within seconds, the gash started bleeding profusely.

Even as the flight crew waiting for the incoming passengers rushed to her aid, I was angry.

Angry at everyone.

Angry at the attendant accompanying my mother for not having prevented this. Angry at my father walking just behind my mother, for not having warned her of the impending level difference in the floor, which he himself would have missed too! Angry at the airlines, the airport, the designers of the aerobridge, India’s aviation industry, everyone. And also angry at myself for seeing my mother fall down just a few paces ahead of me, and not being able to prevent it.

And while I was coping with this *why us* moment, something else was happening simultaneously, and which is why I’m writing this, albeit a year later.

As soon as my mother fell, the cabin crew and the ground staff all rushed to her aid.

Someone brought tissues, someone ice, and some others lots of more tissues.

A crew member was holding my mother’s forehead, wiping the oozing blood. Another brought water for her to drink. Some others took charge of managing the rest of the passengers whose entry into the plane had been interrupted by this commotion.

Someone took her to the nearest business class seat. More water to drink, and some juice too. And a discussion ensued on how to handle her for the rest of the journey.

The bleeding eased up, nearly stopped, with at least one member of the crew cleaning her wound non-stop. However, they conferred that even though the bleeding had stopped, as it was a fresh open wound, it would start bleeding again when in flight due to the lower air pressure.  So the passenger was not fit to fly.

Now what?

They suggested that while the rest of the family should continue with the journey to Delhi, I should get off the flight with my mother so that she could be attended to, and that we would be put on the next flight to Delhi later that evening.

There was no other choice.

So mother and I made our way back out of the aerobridge, but this time she was on a wheelchair, and a member of the ground staff was holding her head and her hand all this while. The on-duty airport doctor was summoned to the head of the aerobridge itself, while the farther flanks of the aerobridge pulled back from the aircraft, which soon began its push back on the tarmac.

The doctor came and concluded that since the gash was fairly big, it definitely needed stitches, which would require a visit to a hospital. At this stage, in my mind, I’m shadow working out  logistics of the hospital trip.

Also at this point, I hear Pooja instruct Sunil, “You will take them to the Seven Hills Hospital in Andheri East.” Then I hear Pooja call up another colleague giving instructions on withdrawing some imprest cash. Then I hear her talking to another colleague on organizing tickets for our evening flight. All this while walking with us towards the exit.

Remember, this was not a normal arrival flow exit. Entries had to be made in the security registers, gates opened etc.

Soon we were in the pre-paid cab, that Sunil had hailed for us. He himself sat in the front seat, talking to my mother all this while, comforting her.

At the hospital, he ran from one wing to another finding out whether we should go to casualty or OPD.

At the casualty, mom goes through basic tests to assess any non-apparent damage, and gets half a dozen stitches under local anesthesia. The stitched-up wound is now hidden under fresh dressing.

Sunil meanwhile goes and gets water, juice and biscuits for mom and me.

While he’s gone, I try and settle the hospital bill. But before I could, Sunil is back and insists he will pay as he’s been instructed by Pooja to do so.

Work over at the hospital, Sunil now organizes a cab that takes us back to the airport.

At the airport it’s already evening, and as we arrive there’s Pooja and another staffer Tarun waiting outside for us.

We’re fast-tracked inside. Another of their colleagues hands over lounge passes for the two of us, so that mom can have a proper meal and rest before the flight.

We’ve been upgraded to business class, so that mom can pass the rest of the journey more comfortably. And right till we are settled in our aircraft seats, there’s someone from Vistara who’s constantly been with us.

And it just occurred to me then, that I hadn’t held my mother’s hand even once from the time she fell down earlier that day. I hadn’t been given an opportunity to do anything for my mother for the last few hours. It was one Vistara staffer or the other who’d been with mom all through. I was just walking along!

Sitting in the ample space of the business class seats, I realized how my anger of a few hours ago was long gone.

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I had witnessed a few hours of empathy laced human behaviour of the highest order. I was trying to count the number of times I thought these fine Vistara staffers didn’t really need to go beyond reasonable limits of their professional duty. But each time, they did!

Ironically, I also said to myself, we were fortunate that this happened in Vistara. What if this had happened in one of those airlines that prided themselves on ‘fastest aircraft turnaround times’. We would have been big liabilities for them, spoiling their single-minded pursuit of being ‘on time’.

Much of what I’m writing now, more than a year later, was etched forever in my mind in those few hours.

Back home, the rigour of daily lives took over, and life went on.

Until, one read of the recent few incidents involving passengers and airline staff, and memories of that one day rushed back.

And then a couple of weeks back when I was traveling Mumbai-Delhi (UK 996) with my dad, I saw Pooja at the airport again. I instinctively went up to her and thanked her profusely for that one day, and what she and her team had done.

Incidentally, when we landed in Delhi, I bumped into Tarun as well, and I went up to and thanked him too. He said he remembered that incident very well. He however had to excuse himself as he was getting frantic calls as a flight from Amritsar had been cancelled and he was helping handle the impact it had on affected passengers and their schedules. Yet another day for them to be playing unsung, unrecognized heroes.

In the intervening one year, Vistara has become my first choice as an airline, and I try to fly with them as far as possible.

As for my parents… They now travel Vistara ONLY.

I can’t trust any other airline with their well being. 

 

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June 2017: Mom and dad being helped by Vistara ground staff in Mumbai (UK 994)

 

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When buying an assembled PC defined swag

Zeitgeist

Anyone who had bought PCs in the 1990s would recall having received multiple configurations & quotations from assemblers. One would start with friends or friendly-neighbourhood assemblers, and then to cut costs further, directly land up at Nehru Place (in Delhi) and cut one layer of margins. It was considered quite ‘bold’ to ask for a 17″ monitor when the prevalent CRT monitor size was 14″. When I’d bought a 1Kva UPS as well, that was like the most swag thing anyone in my peers had done till then!

What mobile games would India be playing in 2015

Games, IIM, Media & Entertainment, Zeitgeist

Through much of 2014, Indians continued to endorse international biggies like Candy Crush Saga, Subway Surfers, and Temple Run 2 on their smartphones. Of the two Indian games that witnessed meaningful traction, one was based on a Bollywood blockbuster (Dhoom:3 by 99Games) and the other was based on India’s most popular offline card game (3-Teen Patti by Octro).

And therein lies the blueprint for what we are likely to see in 2015 as well.

Fountainhead Bollywood

We have to acknowledge that movies sit at the apex of the entertainment value-chain; not only in India, but also in the aspirational market we look up to — the US. This manifests itself in various perspectives — monetization, distribution, talent, content derivatives, franchises, news, buzz etc.

In the last few years film-makers film-marketeers have been using gaming as a logical medium to engage with their relevant audience. However, most of the efforts have been geared towards (and measured by) buzz creation leading to the movies’ theatrical release and a few weeks after that.

In most such cases, the development of the games starts only when the movies are well into post-production; and in some cases a last-minute line item in their marketing mix.

This, therefore, defines the kind of time, resources and returns that get associated with such dalliances. Mostly, next to nothing. Especially when seen in comparison to the ‘hundreds of crores’ budgets & earnings associated with movies.

This however, is changing. 

The core driver for this change is the fantastic proliferation of connected mobile devices. The numbers being quoted by industry sources may vary, but when these are in the 100-200 million range, and growing rapidly, it is already a sizable number.

Games like Krrish and Dhoom-3 crossing the 10million user milestone is significant. I’ll come to the economics flowing from this in a while — but see it as 1 crore people having downloaded each of these games. Now assume, each of them were to pay the equivalent of a cinema ticket (say, Rs.100), the number we’re hitting is the *100 crore* sweet spot!

Of course, the stage at which various pieces of the gaming ecosystem currently are, even if we were able to do just 10% of these numbers we would be delivering serious value.

What the industry needs to do is:

  1. Innovate in production
  2. Innovate in distribution
  3. Innovate in monetization

How? I’ll touch upon this briefly a little later, and maybe in detail in a subsequent post.

Local Game Formats

When we had launched ibibo TeenPatti in 2009 at the height of the web social games cycle, it was a runaway hit. The best part being that we did not have to either invent the game-play algorithm, or spend effort in telling users how to play that. All we had to do was create a stable online instance of the teen patti game, and inform users about our existence. Everything else fell in to place.

When we’d made the Android version of the same game, it climbed to the top of the charts without any extra effort, competing once in a while with Zynga Poker for the top spot. For the next couple of years, while the rest of the ibibo business was getting re-aligned, ibibo TeenPatti app continued to be at the top.

Full credit to Octro for having seen the opportunity and moving in with the right kind of user acquisition spends. The Sequoia investment of $15million followed. And this spawned dozens of more teen patti games on the app stores. Collectively, the various teen patti game apps would have done ~20 million downloads. This is comparable to what the global big three (Candy Crush, Subway Surfers and Temple Run) would have individually done in India. One could say the ‘teen patti genre’ is India’s current answer to Candy Crush.

Teen patti of course was the lowest hanging fruit. There will be card games like rummy, bluff, sweep and apps based on physical board games like carrom that developers are, and should be making. Similarly, Bingo, (or its popular Indian party format — Tambola) hasn’t been seriously pursued yet.

In 2015, we may see at least one break-through ‘Indian’ game. I would say tambola has a better chance, than carrom, which would face a challenge in recreating a high quality physics-based visual experience. Teen patti needs no physics. Pool and carrom do. (I’ve had the experience of launching an online Pool game that had been developed by an ace international team; and when we showed that to people who’d previously played low quality online pool games, we witnessed 100% conversion and very high retention. So, production quality would matter there.)

ALSO, there’s a caveat.

Not all local games would work. It is important that the *really hot target group* should have some real-life reference point for these native games. Teen patti works because you’re creating an online/mobile instance of an already popular game. Same was the case with online pool some 5-6 years ago; because offline pool was the aspirational hangout experience for youth across many cities in India.

I’m not so sure about carrom. I think carrom mattered to those who went to college in the 80s and 90s, and spent hours playing carrom in college canteens. But I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the young mobile game players of today still endorse it without the physical world reference.

International Game Formats

Like in other media, we need to keep an eye on globally emerging mobile game formats, and make a judgment call on what could work in India as well.

Movie-making started in India around the same time it did globally; but film makers (and film marketeers) in India have a long tradition of looking westward for inspiration.

Most of the television business we see around us is modelled on the American television business. This is true for both fiction & non-fiction based television. The entire concept of daily soap operas, game shows, reality shows, news programming, sports programming, stand-up comedy shows etc. is made on blueprints coming out of the US. Yes, they’ve been ‘Indian-ized’ to suit the respective audiences of our TV channels — but the core formats are global.

This is what gaming needs to do in the right earnest.

Many of the leading Indian internet businesses have already done it: Think Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, InMobiZomato, Quikr, Olacabs. They’ve all been pretty successful in their own right — but have they ‘invented’ the format of the business they’re running? No, they haven’t. And they don’t need to either. They needed to adapt & innovate, and that they’ve done pretty well.

Interestingly, we’ve got two different global ecosystems to look up to: US and east Asia.

I’d done something like this while launching ibibo Farms game in 2009. We’d licensed the game from a developer in China, added the requisite localization layers on top, and given it some innovative marketing and distribution pushes. The game became quite popular, and was earning money too. In my estimates, ibibo Farms would have been earning more money out of India than Zynga’s Farmville!  (Funny anecdote: Some poorly informed ‘tech’ blogger, who hadn’t played either — said, we’d copied Farmville ‘screen by screen’. What the poor guy didn’t know was that Farmville wasn’t even the first farm game in the world, and that there were dozens of farm games from developers in China that were doing fairly well globally, and most of them preceded Farmville!)

One of the global formats that has great potential in India is quizzing. Of course QuizUp has seen great traction globally, and that should act as a spur for game developers in India, rather than burdening them with the unwanted comparison: “There’s already QuizUp in this space, you should try something else.” Bollocks!

Challenges?

  • Talent will continue to be a challenge. But a key investment here would be to focus on acquiring story-tellers into the fold, rather than only focusing on developers and visual artists. The latter are available in plenty, given the BPO past of the gaming industry. It’s the former that need to be mentored, nurtured and weaned away from other disciplines like films, television, and advertising.
  • Monetization isn’t as big an issue as it is made out to be. Given the right kind of games, with the right kind of hooks to get people to pay, monetization will happen.
  • Distribution is a bigger challenge, as we seem to be stuck between the existing levers Google Play Store on the one hand, and device embeds on the other. Both of these are running sub-optimally. Sadly, given the very bad history of telcos in curating content ecosystems, one can’t even look towards them.
  • User acquisition through these existing channels is becoming more and more un-viable, when you are competing for visibility with ecommerce players, FMCGs, global gaming giants among others. Acquisition costs through Facebook have grown more than 500% in one year, with game ads on Facebook performing even worse than dating ads!
  • Very low self-belief in creating their own ‘characters’. The gaming industry doesn’t yet believe that they should be creating their own Chhota Bheems and Kid Krrishes. While we keep lamenting the bad monetization scenarios with app stores and ad-networks, investments in building franchise-able characters aren’t happening either, which could pay-off handsomely in the long run.

—-

There is one game I would like to highlight as perhaps the only example of an organically successful game in India. It’s a game that was launched as a mere line item in the events line up for IIM-Indore’s festival in 2006 — a browser game called KlueLess. Initially based on the international puzzle game Notpron, KlueLess is an example of an ‘adapted format’ that became very popular, and has kept on growing every year. From being yet another online event in a college fest — it has become THE event that everyone looks forward to playing. And it will be into it’s 9th season in 2015!

Let me close this post with this quote:

It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.

— Jean-Luc Godard