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Fifty-Fifty: Why Indigo Stock Is So Good To Buy

One would think that in today’s day-and-age customer service would be a sine quo non in the airlines business. But Indigo is surely an exception.

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I was at the T2 terminal of the Mumbai airport one early morning, the week before Diwali. I was taking an Indigo flight to Chandigarh. I had printed my boarding card and affixed the baggage tags sent by the airline on to my check-in baggage. So, I headed straight to the baggage drop-off queue. My turn came twenty minutes later. But the loader at the otherwise unmanned drop-off counter turned me back saying I needed to get the baggage tag from the self-service kiosk. I have already printed and pasted the tag sent on email by Indigo, I pointed out. Yes, but the emailed one doesn’t have a bar-code. Then why send it, I asked? The loader, merely shrugged, pushed my cart out of the way and got busy with the next customer.

A bit vexed, I wheeled my trolley to the kiosk. There was no choice. I got myself the desired baggage tag, rejoined the queue and was back at the drop-off counter twenty five minutes later.

The loader put my bag on the belt. “It is 15.6 kg. You have to pay for one kilo excess baggage,” he said. I wasn’t sure I had heard right. In more than four decades of flying, I had never been asked to pay excess baggage for 600 grams! “But it was dot 15 kg on my home scale,” I countered, because I had actually double-checked the bag’s weight before leaving home. He just shrugged, took my bag off the belt, put it on my trolley and pointed me to the next counter which actually had a customer executive. I was a bit non-plussed. Any case, I told the young lady at the counter that the loader had sent me to her as my bag supposedly weighed 600 grams more than my baggage allowance. She asked me to place the bag on the belt at her counter. The weigh display now showed 16 kg! She looked at me, and almost triumphantly said it is one kilogram excess. By now I was beginning to get a bit hot under the collar. “So you mean my bag gained 400 grams weight in the last 60 seconds? Your own two scales on adjacent counters don’t match. How can you insist on my paying excess baggage?”. “Sir, you have to pay Rs. 500 for one kilo,” she shrugged, without any further expression. “This is not fair,” I insisted, raising my voice a trifle. 

A supervisor now joined the girl at the counter. I explained to her what my problem was. Instead of resolving the issue at hand, she asked me to put my hand-baggage on the scale. The hand-bag was a notch more than 7 kg as I had stuffed my pullover into it. So I took out my pullover and put the hand bag back on the scale. But, the supervisor had already made up her mind. “That will be three kilos excess baggage. Rs. 1500”. I was by now fairly angry. But it was a no-win situation. I could either succumb to the extortion or not fly. “Who checks these scales?”. “Our team checks each of them everyday”. “Then why don’t they match?”. She just shrugged. I figured very quickly that the shrug is the smile equivalent at Indigo … a dismissive ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ signal. 

There was no point arguing. I paid. 

Since I was still fuming by the time I boarded, my mind engaged itself in some mental maths. If Indigo extorts just Rs. 500 from a thousand passengers everyday (the actual number is much larger, I am sure), that is Rs. 5,00,000 a day on just faulty scales! Or Rs. 1.5 crore a month. Or Rs. 18 crore a year. If the counter staff manage to extract Rs. 1500 per victim (like in my case), that makes it Rs. 50 crore a year from just one tiny little fix. Indigo flew 64 million passengers last year. A thousand passengers everyday lassoed for seemingly ‘excess’ baggage of a kilo, or more, is just a teeny weeny itsy bitsy decimal no one ever notices. 

My agitated mind also reminded me that for the same flight, earlier in the week, I had paid Rs. 350 to reserve an aisle seat, 3C, on MakeMyTrip. When I started to print my boarding card, my reserved seat was not showing up. I had to pay an equivalent sum of Rs. 350 to reserve another  aisle seat, 4C for the trip. The money paid the first time around, has still not been credited to my account by Indigo/MakeMyTrip despite numerous responses. Now if Indigo were to just do that to a thousand customers a day …?! The numbers are possibly far far more. And the amounts run into multiple crores. Not too many people actually complain, some give-up half-way, very few diligently follow-up and collect. The overall numbers that benefit the airlines (or their partners) on such ‘errors’ or ‘tech’ glitches are never revealed. It is nothing short of a scam.

One would think that in today’s day-and-age customer service would be a sine quo non in the airlines business. But Indigo is surely an exception. I even wrote a physical complaint on paper and handed it to the air-hostess on board. No one from Indigo called. 

As the ‘lean, clean’ (so it said on the seat back covers) Indigo flight took wings to Chandigarh, I made notes: 1. Must get my lawyer to check what Weights & Measures laws apply to airlines and whether the DGCA ever checks this on-going fraud and if the data is ever made public on how many passengers paid ‘excess baggage’?  2. Who monitors non-refunds by airlines and their trade partners? Is any data ever made public? 3. To send a formal complaint to Hardeep Singh Puri, the Civil Aviation minister asking him how come the flight was nearly 100% full? Where were all the much touted C-19 guidelines? Social distancing?  

Two hours on the flight however cleared up my mind. What had happened to me as a passenger on this Indigo flight that morning is actually a very sound revenue strategy. Fleecing passengers through doctored weigh scales; delaying/denying refunds for services charged but never delivered; and running planes that are chock a block in the ongoing pandemic. 

As soon as I alighted from the plane, I just bought a large chunk of  Interglobe Aviation stock. They have their profits all figured out! Why complain? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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indigo airlines Magazine 21 Nov 2020 aviation

Dr Sandeep Goyal

The author was Founder Chairman of Dentsu India. He has authored Konjo – The Fighting Spirit and Japan Made Easy, both Harper Collins publications, on his 25 years of working with Japan.

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