IndiGo Airline, India’s second largest budget carrier, has edged its way into the glut of low-cost airlines operating in the UAE, with plans to leave a permanent mark on the local aviation industry.
Reaction from Dubai residents have been generally positive, though a slight sense of scepticism seems evident.
Branching out of their domestic routes for the first time, IndiGo Airline’s inaugural international flight ferried 162 passengers from Delhi to Dubai on September 1, with Consul-General of India in Dubai Sanjay Verma onboard its outbound leg.
As a way to break into the market, the airline has offered record low round-trip airfare of Dh816 for the first 25,000 seats on the Delhi-Dubai route. “In the long run, promotional gimmicks cannot pull in a dedicated client base. We promise the best on-time performance, consistently low fares and a generally hassle-free travel experience.
That’s our core philosophy,” Aditya Ghosh, IndiGo Airline president told Khaleej Times. IndiGo’s model follows a single aircraft type, and short-distance travel routes (allowing for quick turnaround times), mirroring those of low-cost carriers like Ryanair in Europe, Southwest in America and AirAsia that handles most routes in the Far East.
What separates IndiGo from run-of-the-mill budget carriers would be its well-known success story with its rapid rise to stardom within India’s highly competitive aviation industry. The five-year-old airline based in Gurgaon, India, currently enjoys a market share of 19.6 per cent, only beaten by the country’s top low-cost carrier by a margin 0.2 per cent. “We’ve also won ‘best on-time performance’ in India,” Ghosh added, from a list of accolades, including its track record of having the least number of cancellations in the domestic aviation sector.
Amid positive response from most Dubai residents, the biggest question remains what will happen to airfares after the promotion ends.
Entrepreneur Ramcharan Singhania considers himself a frequent flyer, making two trips every month to Delhi and Teheran from his home base in the UAE. “Going to Delhi is a monthly tradition for me. IndiGo’s discounts couldn’t have come at a better time, but the low fares look like a short-term marketing promotion. Perhaps, IndiGo can pull in customers who know of their reputation in India, but otherwise, I don’t see how it could draw in crowds after the promotion is over, when you have Emirates and Air India flying multiple times a day. You can’t encourage business people based in Dubai to fly budget anyway,” he said.
According to Ghosh, low fares are a given when flying with IndiGo. “Even after the promotion is over, we can promise low fares. Our focus is on providing flights to popular sectors like Delhi-Dubai. In a month, we’ll be opening the Mumbai-Dubai leg as well,” he said. The airline also harbours future plans to connect South Indian cities like Cochin and Trivandrum to Dubai.
“We have 240 more planes on order, that will fill out over the next 15 years. From established domestic players, we hope to grow to serious regional players,” Ghosh added.
After 10 years of working as a financial consultant in the aviation industry, Dubai resident Jayanthi Menon thinks it’ll take at least a year to tell if IndiGo’s move to Dubai is a positive one for the public. “IndiGo’s entry into the UAE could mean two things. Firstly, it might start a trend and soon we’ll see other budget carriers try to get a market share in the Gulf. Secondly, it could start a price war between carriers, especially since 25,000 seats could take months to fill, and in the meantime, IndiGo’s competitors may pull price-plunging marketing stunts,” she said.
A greater variety of low-cost airlines travelling to wider destinations could be a good thing for the budget-conscious, but the entire sector fails to make an impression on the luxury-loving segment of our population who need their first class seats and extra leg room.
“Budget travel is extremely popular in the UAE, but long-term success in the sector may boil down to how many people actually feel the economic pinch right now that they are willing to save on travel expenses,” Menon added.
The popularity of budget airlines may not appeal to classicists in Dubai, but for frequent flyers and Indian expats who wish to cut corners when flying home, IndiGo can be seen as one more option in a myriad of low-cost carriers flying out of the city.