Mon, 25 Dec 2000

Spoilt for choice with new airlines

JAKARTA (JP): Flying in a new era of greater choice will hopefully benefit consumers.

They will have more options and most will want better services for their money -- but high risks are involved for the airlines.

High risk has a double meaning here. First, investors must realize the risk that passengers will take as a given good service, but be sure to complain when standards fall short.

Second, as chairman of the Indonesia national Air Carriers Association (INACA) Wahyu Hidayat said, the airline industry is a business of risk related to safety and security and money.

"A train can operate with broken windows, a bus can travel with excessive passengers, but not an airplane. The airline industry is also a capital intensive business that operators must arrange jet procurement or leasing, technology maintenance and prepare human resources," Wahyu said.

The airline business is also vulnerable to financial turbulence; when airfares are raised to accommodate fluctuating exchange rates and prices, the number of passengers is bound to drop.

Wahyu said that operating aircraft of the same type was one way to save on expenses.

But if the government remains consistent with its policy that airlines are required to serve both profitable and unprofitable routes, the airlines will have to operate more than one type of aircraft. This is due to the different condition of airports in Indonesia and load factors. It would be inefficient to operate wide-body aircraft for a limited passenger load, and only a few of the country's aircraft can accommodate the larger planes. Choices

How to pick and choose the best airline?

There are frequent flyers who seek safety and security above all. Some are won over by friendly service, while others want the assurance of on-time performance because of their own tight schedules.

There are also those who want to try different airlines in order to learn from experience.

They can take note of the different ground services, from check-in, the type of aircraft, how the pilot fared on takeoff and landing and the attitude of flight attendants. They have a chance to compare the attention to safety of the latter, such as when a passenger arrives loaded down with too many pieces of carry-on luggage or obstinately refuses to use the seatbelt.

Will the flight attendants put them in their place, or let it go with a bemused smile, thereby putting other passengers in potential danger?

A reservation system is a good indicator of what lies in store. Is it fast and efficient, or does the airline keep you on hold forever as you are forced to listen to the strains of Muzak? Are they courteous and friendly, or do they sound like they really could not be bothered and that you are taking up their time?

If you ticked off the latter answers to both questions, then chances are that the airline's management leaves something to be desired -- and the services in the sky will be of a similar sorry standard.

Few people also bother to find out about the age and the carrying capacity of an aircraft. They can read about this in the inflight magazine, but it would be better to ask about it from the airline crew. It will be a great plus in rating the airline if they crew knows its stuff.

And, of course, ask around. People who have flown the airlines will be able to give you a first-hand account of their experience in the skies. If it fell short for them, especially on more than one occasion, then it may be a wise decision to try another airline serving the same route. After all, word of mouth is the greatest advertisement for the quality of any service industry (I. Christianto)