Air India’s reaction at being rated the world’s third worst performing airline in a global survey was predictable indignation. While the veracity of claims like this must be checked before being taken as gospel truth, it would also be wise for the airline, flagged over its cabin cleanliness, service quality and, importantly, flight delays, to introspect a bit. Nothing will be gained by shooting the messenger over vague “conspiracy theories”. The way to go might be to analyse its on-time performance and see how it rates, at least in contrast to Indian competitors. The national carrier has been reduced to its current state by acts of omission and commission by politicians who let private airlines flourish by weakening Air India’s hold on profitable routes over the past two decades.
Once the epitome of Indian hospitality, as personified by its Maharaja mascot, Air India has fallen so badly that it’s among the Union government’s worst-performing entities, with debts of Rs 46,570 crores (including Rs 15,00 crores for aircraft purchases). Its debts are five times more than what the defunct Kingfisher Airlines borrowed from the banks and was hounded out. Even the silver lining in the dark clouds, which a return to operating profits in 2015-16 was for Air India, may now disappear with international oil prices climbing by the week again. There is no denying that the airline is a drain on national resources, and unless it gets a proper makeover on professional lines that doesn’t have to genuflect to every VIP, Air India is only likely to sink further in these extremely competitive times.