Did Indigo misread customer frustration elasticity?

28 Nov,2018

Representative picture


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Last week, Indigo, the best on-time performing airline of India, made an announcement. It said it would start charging for any seat selected on web check-in.  Oh, well, it graciously offered the option of free seat check-in at the airport. As expected, it led to loud protests and negative sentiments on the social media.

Finally, Indigo watered it down. Now, few seats will be available free on web check-in. For rest (read most) of the seats, the passenger will have to pay on web check-in. Nothing changed.

Other airlines like Vistara cashed in on the situation. They reminded people that web check-in on Vistara is available without paying any charge.

Even Jet has seats with no charges for their Platinum flyers. So what if the lounge is not available to platinum frequent flyers travelling economy. Trust me, customers being customer have a tendency to adapt.



The revenue expected was too small compared to the dent it makes on customer experience. May be it was the case of ‘every drop counts’ with profits nosediving for the airline. Or someone was flying high, well above 35,000 feet when the decision was made. Why would any one try sabotaging the customer experience?



Indigo has the largest share of passenger traffic. Its on-time performance has created a preference among frequent flyers.  It has been promoting web check-in and pushing kiosk check-in. The in-flight crew is one of the friendliest. So what if they always run out of items on the menu card.



It has a non-relenting excess baggage policy. It does not compromise on 25-minute door close policy. The seats are cramped for space. And a pre-booked meal does not guarantee serving.



Airlines have always been testing FRUSTRATION ELASTICITY of customers. Examining how far the customer is willing to be pushed before a backlash starts. This time maybe Indigo has gone a little too far.

The joke on social hinted at possible next steps. Why not starts a ‘Standing Passenger’ service? Why not charge for the use of loo?  With four trollies of ‘FOOD MART’ in the pathway, it is anyway tough to reach the loo.



I think Indigo understands customers. They will adapt to such unbundling of services.

The customer is seeking convenience. Most are willing to pay for these special privileges. With a large part of the traffic being business-led, even the seat charges will soon become a hidden cost for many passengers.

Their internal data must have indicated customer’s willingness for reserving preferred seats. Earlier, one was used to the crew announcing the availability of seats with excess legroom in row 1,12 and 13 at a price. With the flights going full on most sectors, there are no such announcements.

Indigo is fully aware that the decision will overload their limited check-in counters. It will lead to inconvenience. Passengers will have to arrive a wee bit early to check-in and wait in the queue. Maybe they expect such an experience will push passengers to grudgingly pay for the seat on web check-in.

The question remains. Was it the right decision? Unfortunately, only time has the answer.

I do feel if they had stuck to their decision, customers would have soon adapted to the new reality. Just like buying food on a flight or silent airports.

I will not be surprised if airlines try testing customer frustration elasticity further by unbundling their price structure in more ways than one.

Customer will be the customer they will adapt. It is as much of truth as Customer wants the best services at the lowest price. Maybe the airline blinked too soon.


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