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Vistara decides to scale back by 10%. What does it mean for the passenger?

The last few days have been turbulent for Vistara – the Tata SIA JV which is all set to merge with Air India. From complaints of delays and cancellations to clubbing of flights and deploying widebody aircraft, the initial days went in fire fighting. The airline has finally come out with information that it is scaling back its operations by around 25-30 flights per day, or 10% of its capacity. This will take the airline back to where it was at the end of February and it is being done to create a buffer in the rosters.

A Vistara passenger aircraft taxis on the tarmac at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. (REUTERS file)

Interestingly, the last line of the statement from Vistara reads that it is hopeful of stable operations for the rest of the month and beyond. While this may just be a play with words, the airline itself being hopeful and not confident is where the panic lies for the passenger.

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Expansion without buffers?

Vistara ended February with a domestic market share of 9.9% and carried 12.55 lakh passengers. On international flights, the airline ferried 2.32 lakh passengers. It deployed an average of 49 international flights and 273 domestic flights in February.

Progressively, the airline introduced more flights in March, including those to Paris from Mumbai and on the domestic routes which include flights on Bengaluru – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru – Kolkata, Bengaluru – Dehradun, Bengaluru – Kochi, Bengaluru – Udaipur, Ahmedabad – Goa and Bengaluru – Trivandrum sectors. The airline has approval for 2324 weekly domestic flights or an average of 334 daily flights. The airline has not yet updated which flights it has pulled back or if the flights being pulled back are different on different days of the week to minimise the impact.

The airlines’ argument of this being an operational issue and the cutback being done to create adequate buffers in rosters indicates a slip between the cup and the lip while planning the sudden multi-frequency addition in domestic skies. Considering the lead time for pilots to be available, this was not planned based on new pilots but planned with existing pilots – which hasn’t ended up as envisioned.

What should the passengers do?

The airline continues to update on a regular basis but with each update has been different. The latest talks about all passengers being informed and accommodated where applicable and a reduction of 10% of its schedule of up to 25- 30 flights. With the memories of delays and cancellations fresh, both regular and newer flyers will be in a quandary about booking Vistara.

There is no denying the fact that passengers should be cautious but data indicates that after the lows of 51% On Time Performance, the airline has scaled back to have an On time Performance which is in line with the industry. It will be safe to assume that the flights which are selling will be the ones which operate after the scaleback has been announced. However, it is wise to check if the flight has operated in the past while one books and have updated contact details with the airline so that the airline can reach out if there are any changes to the booking.

Tail Note

The airline management, board and owners may want to deep dive into the issues and the mess that the airline got itself into over the last few days, but one cannot deny that this is a case of bad planning especially leading up to the peak summer holidays when traffic is expected to be the best ever.

Passengers can always be swayed by lower costs but does that help recover the costs for Vistara? The airline has not made a profit since inception and probably this was the best time ever to sign off on a high before merging with Air India.

Social media is full of chatter with everyone speculating the blame – the management, the HR, the pilots but what is needed is Human Response Management for the airline, both internally towards the pilots and externally to the passengers to handle delays and cancellations. When the delays hit the roof, most complaints also had the added anger of the staff being clueless and updates being absent.

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