Wild boars and wilder brawls: India’s top airline is living through a nightmarish November

ETA to next fracas?
ETA to next fracas?
Image: Reuters/Regis Duvignau
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India’s biggest airline is flying through some serious turbulence this month. 

For IndiGo airlines, the trial began on Nov. 04, after badminton ace P V Sindhu took to Twitter to rate her experience with the carrier. Her verdict: “Very bad.”

The Olympic silver medalist explained that the airline’s ground staff had “behaved very badly and rudely” with her. Quick to the defence, IndiGo insisted that Sindhu boarded the flight late, carrying an over-sized bag that could not fit into the overhead bin. It was the ensuing confusion that apparently led to the incident.

BSE-listed IndiGo which controls 38.2% of the market share, as per the latest report, probably had little idea that its November nightmare had just begun.

In less than a decade after its launch in 2006, IndiGo has emerged as the leader in Indian aviation, riding high on punctuality, reliability, and standout customer service. Its won the Skytrax world airline award eight consecutive times for being the best low-cost airline in central Asia and India. In the last few weeks, though, some of these award-winning attributes have come under scrutiny, as the airline has lurched from one public relations disaster to another. 

The company has also run into a legal tussle with the Delhi International Airport (DIAL), while one of its aircraft had an encounter with errant wildlife on a runway in southern Indian. The airline’s stock has taken a beating amidst all this chaos.

Fasten your seatbelt

On Nov. 07, a video of IndiGo ground staff assaulting a passenger on the tarmac surfaced and, in no time, went viral. In the video, airline employees are seen pinning the passenger to the ground following a verbal altercation. The controversy got murkier after it was learnt that the carrier had unceremoniously fired the whistleblower who videographed the incident. Later, the airline defended the decision, stating that the whistleblower had instigated the brawl.

IndiGo’s belated apology, three weeks after the assault, added fuel to the fire. For two days #boycottIndiGo trended on Twitter even as jokes and memes about the airline, which has made a name for itself for its smart branding and slick advertisements, were widely circulated.

Barely had it recovered from this row when another one kicked off. The airline was pulled up for negligence after one of its passengers fell off a wheelchair while being assisted by the ground staff at the Lucknow airport on Nov. 13. The state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages over 100 airports, squarely blamed IndiGo. The carrier argued that the accident was caused by a crack on the tarmac floor and dim lighting on the path, a claim rubbished by AAI.

A day later, on Nov. 14, an IndiGo flight carrying 150 passengers averted a mishap at the Visakhapatnam airport after a wild boar wandered onto the runway and came under the aircraft. Though it only led to a three hour delay IndiGo once again hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Then, early on Nov. 16, its Doha-bound flight hit a bird soon after take-off from Chennai. The plane with 134 on board was forced to return.

Meanwhile, DIAL has dragged IndiGo to court. The airport authorities have directed airlines operating from Terminal-1 to partially shift their operations to Terminal-2 owing to expansion work. IndiGo, however, believes it will lead to chaos and confusion among its customers.

The airline’s brand image is sullied. “There has been a cascade of bad occurrences one after the other and the airline needs to be careful,” said brand consultant Harish Bijoor. “There have been compromises in its services and offerings. Even though public memory is short, the airline needs to rectify this and be more careful in (the) future.” IndiGo declined to comment.

Not surprisingly, the markets aren’t pleased with IndiGo’s shenanigans. After rising through October, its stock has lost around 7% of its value on BSE between Nov. 01 and Nov. 15.

An unforgettable month for IndiGo, but for all the wrong reasons.