In the last few months, India’s pervasive culture of privilege has got a sound beating: In March, Ravindra Gaikwad, an MP, hit a 60-year-old Air India (AI) employee with a slipper and soon found himself on a ‘no-fly’ list. Then in April, the Cabinet banned red beacons on cars. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that there are no VIPs, every Indian is a very important person.
On Wednesday, Air India (AI) scrapped one more privilege, this time an in-house one. Air India chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani asked the staff to carry their hand baggage on their own and not use porters as has been the practice so far. Air India has a subsidiary called AI-SATS, a ground handling agency, which provides end-to-end services such as passenger and baggage handling. Apart from this, some people are reserved to assist VIPs and airline staff. They are called porters and carry the luggage of the ‘VIP” passenger from the entry gate to the boarding point. But now only VIPs will continue to use the services of porters, the airline staff will be discouraged to use it. “Even CMD will not use the porter service,” the airline said.
While the move appreciable, the change is cosmetic.
The move would have got a higher rating if this privilege was taken away from VIPs too.
While such changes are fine and make for good optics, there are so many things that the AI needs to fix and, hopefully, those will also get adequate attention.
Take for example, the airline’s rating and public perception. In January, flight data firm FlightStats marked AI as the third worst-performing airline in the world. The Portland-headquartered firm’s survey highlighted issues over cabins, service quality, and flight delays.
Though Air India disagreed with the report, such reports do impact public perception and eventually bookings. It is important to manage perceptions and AI has to invest time, effort and money into it apart from doing away with perks and privileges extended to staff.
Then its finances. As a columnist pointed out last week, the organisation has consistently incurred losses and is severely debt-ridden despite equity infusion of around Rs 25,000 crore since 2012. More damaging was the Comptroller and Auditor General’s performance audit report of the airline, which was tabled in Parliament in March. The report said inefficiencies in the company may mean that a lot more of public money will be needed to keep the Maharaja afloat.