Priority boarding – lessons from AirAsia to IndiGo and SpiceJet and for airports from temples

AirAsia Airbus A320 9M-AHS Penang Bayan Lepas Airport MalaysiaAbout two months ago, I flew AirAsia, rather Thai AirAsia for the first time. I could help but compare their services with those of Indian low fare carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet.

There is a marked difference between AirAsia and the Indians. In some cases the Indians can learn, and some where AirAsia can learn.

In the air, the crew friendliness and overall no-nonsense, smooth, and, efficient operations, are common to all the three carriers. With ticket prices almost the same for similar distance flights, one can draw satisfaction that Indian low cost carriers are keeping up with AirAsia and doing in a very similar manner all the right things to keep bringing in and retaining the customers.

IndiGo airlines India Airbus A320-232 VT-INK Bengaluru International Airport print quality photo

But on the ground, especially at check-in, the Indians make a passenger feel far more welcome and valuable than AirAsia. It brings back the question — in air travel what percentage is a transport business and how much is hospitality? Air Asia can learn from its Indian cousins — you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

At both Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, and on the return at Hat Yai airport, the check-in staff insisted on weighing the hand-carry baggage to ensure it is below the weight limit of 7kgs. The actions of the check-in staff made me wonder what would be the case, if my cabin bag crossed the 7kg mark, since I had pre-paid for 15kg check-in baggage and my check-in bag weighed a mere 9kg.

SpiceJet latest Boeing 737-800 VT-SGG

One area which both the Indian carriers can learn from AirAsia, is the concept of priority boarding. All three carrier charge for for a seat in the front or exit rows. AirAsia and IndiGo charge about $7~$8 (THB250 or INR300), SpiceJet is a bit lower.

AirAsia incentivises the sale of these seats by offering priority boarding to passengers who purchase these seats, something, neither SpiceJet or IndiGo offer. In case of bus boarding when the aircraft in a remote bay, the priority boarding passengers are loaded in the first bus and sent ahead. The priority boarding adds only about three minutes to the entire boarding process but the impact on the customer is tremendous. Passengers who purchase these seats benefit from no boarding queues and empty overhead bins, and therefore look to repeat the experience in future trips. Those passengers who do not purchase these seats, look on those who do, with envy, and strongly consider buying these seats on their next trip. A double benefit for AirAsia seat selection sales.

Along with priority boarding, I started thinking what other “speed” benefits would passengers be willing to pay for? I wouldn’t quite call it a divine inspiration, but what if airports in India would take an inspiration from the temples of India for their serpentine and often treacly slow security check queues.

Most major temples in India like Tirupathi Thirumala Lord Venkateswara, Vaishno Devi, and others offer a priority queue system for which hundreds of thousands of tickets are sold every year. The pilgrims who do not pay also get their darshan, it just takes a little while longer.

Could airports provision one or two “express security lanes” and sell tickets to these for Rs.250~Rs.500 a trip? I am sure it will be a hit with the frequent travellers. Many airports across the world already offer similar services.

In plutocratic airports where even government provides services only after payment of a fee (the Rs. 225 passenger service fee of which about Rs. 130 is paid to CISF for security), surely this is an idea whose time has come?  What is your opinion?

After all we experience preference due to cronyism, nepotism, gerontocracy, oligarchy, and aristocracy almost daily.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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