I first boarded a flight to Dubai in 1997 and have subsequently flown to the destination every year. My travel agent recommended we travel business class since the price differential was only rupees five thousand. We chose not to listen to him and were amazed to see the multitude of people who travelled to the Middle East. Many preferred to squat on the carpet of the airport waiting area. They represented the labour from India that supports to Middle East economy in all their industries. People who supported families in India and made their dreams come true.
The journey wasn’t very comfortable and we listened to the travel agent from the next year. Over the years we watched the business class prices rise and the seats shrink. When Etihad airlines launched its India operations in 2004 at a fraction of the fare offered by the lead players in the sector, it changed the rules of the game. Etihad Airlines is the national airline of Abu Dhabi and they offered a free pick up and drop shuttle service to and from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. A huge chunk of the price sensitive market moved to their counters forcing Air India to re-launch its price sensitive segment to the Air India Express. The consumer profile of the economy passenger changed and we once again constituted the segment.
The recent Air India crash is in this budget sector. It has taken the lives of people who may not appear on the pages of Fortune or Financial papers but comprise the individual on whom many a person in South India depend on for financial support. While everyone blames someone else for the cause of the crash, as someone who has commuted to Mangalore in a Air India flight, who has friends in Mangalore, who knows people who were planning a journey on this flight and who has interacted with people who migrate to distant lands to lead a lonely harsh life only to make the lives of people back home better, this is a tragedy that is heartfelt.
However one doesn’t really think Air India will really learn or do anything after this catastrophe. In a country of one billion people the life of a common man has rarely been of much consequence. It just makes for wonderful TRP ratings in news channels.