Staying true to the business model: Key to winning customer loyalty

Aloke Singh, CEO, Air India Express spoke to the ET upon winning the ‘Iconic Brands of India 2021’ award.

Read the full interview

In the light of the new normal, how have you changed your brand strategy?

In essence, our brand has always been about trust, reliability and resilience; in that sense, our brand strategy has not really changed. In fact, it has remained steady and consistent, even as the environment evolved.

During the early part of the pandemic, our focus was on repatriation flights. We were dealing with an unknown, but employees of the whole airline came together, even at great personal risk, and made a success of the task assigned – we operated the very first repatriation flight, and as of August this year, have operated 17470 flights transporting 1.9 million people. We were there for our customers when we were needed the most.

Now, the efforts are aimed at business continuity and getting back to normalcy as soon as possible. Our crew and frontline employees are mostly vaccinated, we are constantly scouting for new opportunities – like our recent charter series to Maldives, a cargo-in-cabin innovation that helps uplift upto 100 tons of fruits and vegetables every day for the export markets, ad hoc flights at short notice to meet a sudden surge in demand. Post-pandemic, it will be about recognizing new customer trends, demand patterns and tweaking our business model for the new normal. And we will do this by leveraging what our brand has always stood for.

Describe what makes your brand connect so well with its existing and potential customers.

Air India Express is India’s largest budget airline on India- Gulf routes. We operate a fleet of 24 Boeing B737 aircraft, mostly from Tier 2/3 cities to international destinations in the Gulf/Middle East and South East Asia, with a point-to-point, low-cost service model. Even though our service is all-economy, the cabin offers a comfortable product – good leg room, engineered leather seats, in-seat power for charging personal devices. A choice of meals is offered that can be booked online, and we are rolling out buy-on-board ready to eat meals as well. Our livery is vibrant, and each aircraft tail is treated as a canvas, depicting some aspect of our unique cultural heritage.

We understand our markets and our customers well – our route
network has been carefully built and we pioneered many unique
non-stop flights based on customer needs.

What is unique about the airline is that a majority of our crew are recruited, trained and based in the very tier 2/3 cities that we serve. It’s a win-win – the airline saves hotel accommodation costs and employees are closer home.

Air India Express has also been an active participant in the communities that it serves – with many award winning CSR projects in the domain of women empowerment, urban waste management, social forestry, skill development, public health and education.

How do you build brand loyalty in the current milieu where consumers are ready to switch brands very easily?

Here, we need to step back and look at the history of the Airline. Air India Express was launched in 2005 to meet the need for affordable, low-cost services on short-haul, regional international routes. It was amongst the first low-cost carriers in the region, connecting smaller Indian destinations with cities in the Gulf and South East Asia. By staying true and consistent to that business model, the airline has today emerged as the leading player on India-Gulf/Middle East routes. It has the highest market share in the point-to-point segment among all other carriers operating in this region, and is one of the most recognized brands in the region.

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