I travelled from Delhi to Mumbai and back yesterday; like I have done on other occasions. The only thing different this time around was the airline — Kingfisher.
If Indian (airlines) was started because the government believed, it had to be involved in every sector of the industry; while Jet Airways was started because some people believed exactly the opposite — that private-sector (with greater responsibility towards quality) should be involved in every business too; and Sahara’s alleged business-model was to run a loss-making airline; and Deccan ushered in a changed paradigm with low-cost being the USP — obviously Kingfisher as an airline was borne out of an individual’s wannabe aspirations, backed by PR generated paid-for hype and abetted by the laziness of feature writers of today!
The wannabe individual is Vijay Mallya. You may ask, with his famed riches and wealth, who would he aspire to be? The answer of course is… …Richard Branson — the fashionably maverick Brit, who started the Virgin brand of businesses including airlines and music. And is often cited as a case-study on — the promoter of a business being the brand-ambassador too.
And the emotional appeal works thus: He (Mallya) is a rich man, who leads a lavish lifestyle. He starts an airline, not because he needs to make money, but because he wants you to experience a slice of the kind of lavish lifestyle you hear/read he leads.
That’s where the myth starts. And luckily in two hours (one-way) and under ten thousand rupees (two-way), the myth is broken. For a red-carpet treatment need not literally mean red-coloured carpets to walk on!
Howsoever hard Shobha De (or is it to be spelt as Shobhaa Dé? — well who cares) may eulogize the ‘struggles’ of this rich man (…to remain rich!) — the fact remains, I find him singularly uncharismatic. And a part of this impression was formed when I saw him live on some NDTV debate on prohibition. And no surprises for guessing which side of the debate he was on — after all, with his main line of business being liquor products (even though they have to be advertized as mineral water and soda!) — he had to argue against prohibition. His stock argument — liquor trade contributes the single-biggest excise duty earner for governments. Anyway, that’s a different point altogether.
His desire to ‘serve’ the common man (things other than beer and whisky) saw him becoming a Rajya Sabha MP (a rich man’s prerogative), and getting the sword of Tipu Sultan ‘back into the country’ — after having won it in an auction (again a rich man’s prerogative).
Ok, wait! Why am I talking about Mallya, when what I had wanted to write about was my first journey in Kingfisher airlines?
I mentioned about the red-carpets. The only thing that’s different from other domestic airlines is the presence of colour TV screens behind every seat back. No big deal, you say? Then let me remind you of that octogenarian gentleman who swept the state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, primarily riding on his populist promise of distributing colour TV sets!
Now when someone does that in an aircraft, what would you call it — classy or populist?
So what does one see on this in-flight TV? After the Mallya “I did this for you blah blah…” video and Yana Gupta telling you how to tie and untie your seat-belts, you see one India-West Indies cricket match (point to note: Kingfisher has been a major sponsor for West Indies cricket), two serials (from Star One), some kids programme (from Hungama), one non-fiction programme (from NDTV Profit),and a photo-shoot with Atul Kasbekar for the Kingfisher calendar (which again is a Pirelli wannabe!).
Further down the ‘class’ slide, you are handed a pouch with exactly two toffees, a few promotional leaflets, a ball-point pen, the only item of value — head phones, and a faux menu card. Touché!
The pace at which he spoke, the pilot could have been either an ex-newsreader on Doordarshan, or certainly an ex-employee of Indian Airlines. Oh wait! Isn’t Kingfisher the only private airline to fly from Terminal IA (both at Delhi and Mumbai), which is otherwise used only by Indian and Alliance airlines, and the tarmac coach was Indian (airlines) too. Oops! How did I miss reading about this public-private partnership?
And how can any post about Kingfisher airlines be complete without a ‘women-as-commodity’ mention about their supposedly good-looking air-hostesses. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and I was all groggy-eyed (having woken up at 4:00am to catch the flight). So…
p.s. I just remembered another example of the promoter being his company’s brand ambassador too — the geriatric patriarch of MDH (masalas)