India - Domestic Airlines

Do any of you recall the brief life of Independence Air? This airline operated out of Dulles and its fleet consisted of spiffy new planes, semi-snarky automated safety announcements, and fun snack packs. Bathed in crisp blue colors, the airline projected a general air of the cool, hip, jet-set lifestyle long since gone. Oh, and they were crazy cheap to fly. That last detail ultimately led to their quick demise.

And yet, maybe they just picked up and relocated their operations to India, like so many other American companies have done. Zing! It is election season, after all, and while you kids are hearing about the pros of Obama's plan to bring US business back to American soil, the Indian papers are all aflutter with the news that outsourcing could be dialing down a bit.

But we're not here to talk politics, we're here to talk about the inflight experience on IndiGo. At first blush IndiGo reminded me much of Independence Air. Here are some quick visual aids to make my case. And let's be real for a second. I don't think Independence Air so much relocated as IndiGo, um, borrowed some ideas. The rules governing intellectual property are fast and loose in this country.

First up: Brand and brand identity. Both names sound very similar - INDigo Airlines and INDepedence Air. Both companies use blue as their trademark color and even share aqua as their highlight tone. Both companies use dots as the primary shape in their graphics. Both companies like a lower case "i".
Second point: Cabin crew. I think these gals shop at the same places. Navy blue shirt dress, tightly fitted? Yes. Royal blue neckerchief? Indeed. But the bonus points go to Miss IndiGo and her smart pillbox hat. I thought those got packed up with the rest of the 1960s but on IndiGo they serve as clues to hiring practices that are similarly antiquated. We'll get to that below.

So, are you convinced yet that this airline gave me another heavy dose of deja vu?

Now that I've highlighted these comparisons in print I'm rethinking my claim that Independence Air died because of financial matters. IndiGo is India's only airline to turn a profit last year and if I'm making the case that they're just like IA then what's the success factor?


Sex sells.

And sex sells well in India even though they put on airs about being a chaste society.

Let's examine the evidence in the context of my inflight experience.

First, I board the flight and can't help but notice that the flight attendants are practically indistinguishable. This isn't a case of one race thinking that those of another all look the same. No, these ladies have the same exact hairstyle, the same exact cat eye make-up, the exact same brightly colored lips, and all are built with almost the same exact bodies. Behold:

Carson and I take our seats and I whisper to him that I'm pretty sure these girls are sporting wigs ("girls" is their term, not mine.) He laughs and dismisses my theory but then gets a closer look and decides that I'm right! Then he comments that the flight attendants are likely pissed at me and my hair; I've got almost the exact 'do that they have to clip on every morning "to look smarter and younger." This is weird.

We're seated and ready for take-off. I adjust my belongings and deposit my Kindle in the seatback pocket. Since the Kindle is taboo during takeoff I must amuse myself somehow so I pull out what I think is an in-flight magazine. It is not a magazine but instead a catalogue of all items available for purchase on this short flight. Ahhhh, burgeoning capitalism. We must never miss an opportunity to sell crap!

One can't overlook the "come hither" pose of this month's "Miss IndiGo" on the cover page. (She's a sprightly 22 years old, from Mumbai, and her dream destination is Denver, Colorado.) Do you think she's selling the trinkets inside or beckoning you, Mr. Businessman, to ask for off the menu items? Several things happen over the next two minutes. I am holding the catalogue in one hand and the boarding card in another, too afraid to put it down in case of a spontaneous security check. I note that my flight number has the prefix "6E" and this catalogue is titled, "Hello 6E." Curious. At the same time our lead flight attendant starts off the pre-flight safety information and tells us about the catalogue. When she says, "Hello 6E" it hits me.

Imagine saying 6E in an Indian/British accent. Do you realize it sounds a helluva lot like, "Hello sexy?" Coincidence? I think not.

The cabin crew take us through their safety dance. I'm not exaggerating one bit when I call this the safety dance because on IndiGo the flight attendants show you where the doors are, how to put on your oxygen mask, and how to crawl to safety in perfectly choreographed, hip-swishing moves. They could be synchronized swimmers in the air and they take this as seriously as if they were in the Olympics.

As they're sashaying about I begin to flip through the pages of "Hello 6E." Two pages in something catches my eye. Just above an airport playset is a trophy indicating one of IndiGo's many performance awards. This one is for being the best performing family operator in Asia, 2011. What have they labeled this trophy?

"Who's the daddy?"

At this point I almost burst out loud with laughter. First I think this is a humorous example of something lost in translation but then I'm not so sure. Maybe these IndiGo people knew exactly what they were saying when they just happened to mess up this phrase on a page that just happens to sell kid's stuff. Bravo, marketing department. I salute your penchant for innuendo.

I keep flipping through the pages while the beverage cart inches closer. Miss IndiGo #3 greets me by name using the flight manifest and I think, "Oooh. Nice touch. Point for IndiGo." Then she tells me that if I'd like anything to drink it will cost me, save for the pitcher of luke warm tap water. Um, no thanks. I won't drink tap water on a plane in the US much less here in India. Point revoked.

Miss IndiGo #3 and #4 pass by and I still think it's frightening how alike these girls are. And then it all comes together on page 25 of "Hello 6E," which just happens to be the centerfold. I kid you not.

Since you can't read the fine print, allow me to spell it out for you, verbatim.

"We are looking for bright, ambitious girls to join our award winning cabin crew. If you are confident, positive and have strong interpersonal skills, we want you to fly with us.

Minimum requirements: Indian nationals between 18-27 years * 10+2 acceptable (high school education) * Fluent in Hindi and English * At least 155 cm tall (~61 inches) with weight in proportion to height * Well groomed with a clear complexion.

Interested candidates may send in their resumes with full-length and passport size photographs to crew@goindigo.in"

Hello, IndiGo. PanAm is on the line from 1958 and it wants its hiring practices back.

As you can probably tell, I am completely captivated by "Hello 6E" and read it cover to cover. At the far back of the catalogue is yet one more advertisement for jobs. This time it's for pilots. The juxtaposition between young woman pilot second-to-last-page and young woman flight attendant centerfold placement was rather telling. Miss Prospective Pilot doesn't really have a clear complexion, is allowed to be up to a whopping 30 years old, and we don't get a glimpse of any part of her body below her buttoned-up collar. If I can't visually size her up how will I ever feel confident in her on-the-job abilities?
For all my ragging on IndiGo I stand by my claim in yesterday's post that the flight experience overall was better than expected. You might even say, "award winning." Too bad it comes at the expense of pretty young things. Or rather, as the captain said over the PA system, "our cabin girls."


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