As Akasa Air opened up flight bookings, a lot of the new airline’s other features were suddenly uncovered, including the seats on offer, inflight amenities, and the food. When the airline takes to the skies for the first time on August 7, its main rival will be IndiGo – the country’s largest airline – and it’s not surprising that it will be benchmarked against IndiGo.
Akasa Air’s MAX aircraft come with the standard Boeing Sky Interior and LED lighting. The first 19 aircraft will have 189 seats each, three more than IndiGo’s A320neo.
The foremost differentiator is that Akasa Air’s aircraft will have a USB port available for every seat. While the airline has not opted for inflight Wi-Fi, this is an indication that it could be looking at starting a streaming service soon, just as Vistara and SpiceJet do.
IndiGo has stayed away from streaming and USB ports, and neither seems to be in the pipeline. An announcement made for its newer seats beginning January 2023 has no mention of USB ports.
The way to a passenger’s heart is via his or her stomach. Every airline in India has to talk about food. Food is an integral part of Indian culture. Vistara’s extensive research showed that Indians want great inflight food. Akasa Air will have Café Akasa as its inflight catering service.
The menu includes sandwiches, croissants, tarts, rolls and burgers – all available only by pre-booking. For those with a sweet tooth, rasmalai, cheesecake, chocolate truffle and baked yoghurt are on offer. Again, these are available only by pre-booking, so you’ll have to decide what sweet you want to eat up in the air beforehand.
The surprise? The airline’s pre-booked meals are more expensive than buying them on board. Typically, airlines offer discounts for pre-booking because it helps with data analytics and getting the right mix and quantity of meals on board.
Akasa will also have the usual ready-to-eat options – upma, poha, pasta, and biryani – where one just needs to add hot water. This will be supplemented with snacks like cashew-nuts, bhel, corn and popcorn.
IndiGo, mostly in anticipation, has upped its game recently and launched 22 new food items, including burgers and samosas along with healthier options like oat-meals and muesli.
Tie-ups from day 1
Most airlines, over a period of time, venture into associated travel spaces. In the case of Akasa Air, it has done so from Day 1. The airline has tied up with TripAdmit to book tailored experiences and with TripFactory to book holidays. It has partnerships with Vernost for hotels and Avis for car rentals.
For the past couple of years, IndiGo has not had a challenger in the true sense of the word. AirAsia India had a serious foot-in-mouth disease, making tall claims without anything materialising on the ground.
SpiceJet, the nearest competitor for most of the period, has been busy with its financial issues. Go First does not have the scale or the funds to take on IndiGo. This leaves only the new carriers with deep pockets to do the job.
IndiGo’s strong share in multiple markets has meant that it is a leading player just about anywhere. However, this dominant position can also trigger fatigue among travellers looking for something new, and Akasa Air fits in well here. The fact that Akasa is backed by investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala adds the halo factor.
While IndiGo went around town in its early days taking pot shots at SpiceJet and Kingfisher Airlines with slogans like Eat Spice, Drink Beer and Fly IndiGo, it is probably time for Akasa Air to talk up its hot meals and USB ports as differentiators.
However, Akasa’s first routes (between Mumbai and Ahmedabad and between Bengaluru and Kochi) are much too short to need charging points or meals to be served to all passengers. There is a lot of slack in aircraft rotation right now and new routes will be added soon. As more and more business routes come up, the need for meals and USB ports will start making a difference.
IndiGo has always tried to match and exceed the capacity of newcomers. This might be the first time where its product is being challenged - will it invest in matching the product?