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On the right flight path

Air India must know that more than age, what matters is how its staff looks. Mondy Thapar writes.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2011 23:36 IST

I've heard much about Air India's dismal business model that makes it a grazing ground for unprofessional professionals and for ghosts of trade unionism past. Frankly, as an occasional passenger of the airline, I have noted a distinct difference of quality between its service during a flight and that prior to it. The Air India website, for instance, is as temperamental as my grand-aunt. Online bookings work at times; don't work at others. And its tickets can be wildly more expensive when bought directly from the airline than from a travel site (or of another airline travelling the same route).

But going for it, is the maharaja-size leg space - a huge virtue for those of us with longish legs and travelling cattle class. The Russian roulette aspect of the quality of on-flight meals - sometimes it's inedible, sometimes it's not - doesn't dent the leg room advantage that an economy class seat has over most other airlines.

Which is where one comes to what could be the unsaid tipping point that, I believe, more than anything else, makes flying on the national carrier not the best option. The general look of the staff both on the ground and in flights. You say, "Does it matter as long as the service is good?" You don't have to be Ivan Pavlov to figure out that in the hospitality industry looks - whether that be prettiness/handsomeness or grooming or a combination of the two - matter. So the latest suggestion coming from within the airline that Air India needs younger cabin crew members, while sounding and indeed being ageist, could be that move along the right flight path.

Sports has an in-built age limit. It may be sad to see a 31-year-old Roger Federer failing against a younger player, but that's the nature of the beast. Somehow, the same rule becomes politically incorrect when applied to airline staff. Part of the problem, of course, is that aesthetics is terribly subjective. The other part of the problem is that Air India is terribly bureaucratic and some old spark will inevitably question the correlation between looking good and being young.

So the legspace remains Air India's clear advantage. That is, until its management decides to face a mammoth contingent of not-so aesthetic folks who utterly fail to admit that good service for the passenger may end with the ear but starts with the eye.

Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer

The views expressed by the author are personal