The Akasa Air experience as it takes to the skies

Sundays are generally quiet days for air travel, but this Sunday was a tad different.

There was quite an excitement at Gate 28 of Mumbai airport’s Terminal 1 as Akasa Air, India’s newest airline, prepared to take to the skies on Day 1.

With a new fuel-efficient Boeing 737 Max aircraft and soft cushioned seats equipped with USB ports, Akasa Air hopes to bring freshness to the flying experience.

And on Day One, it didn’t disappoint.

While its Mumbai-Ahmedabad morning inaugural flight was sold out within a day of bookings opening, demand on its second flight on the route was thin.

Tickets were available for sale till a few hours before the departure, and quite a few were sold on Sunday, too.

The check-in process was smooth as there were only 49 passengers on board the 189-seater second flight to Ahmedabad (QP 1107).

A few passengers came late, after the check-in counter had closed, and were accommodated as they had web checked-in and carried no luggage.

One passenger who arrived from Saudi Arabia, however, wasn’t as lucky and had to be turned away.

“We would have liked to help him too but we know the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force is in charge of airport security) would not have allowed the zam zam water bottles he was carrying inside the cabin,” an airline executive said.

Akasa has roped in ground handler Bird Worldwide Flight Services (BWFS) to manage check-in and other functions at Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Many of the check-in counter staff are freshers.

They were put through extensive briefings and participated in trials in the last few days to prepare for various scenarios that airlines encounter every day – like handling passengers with wait-list tickets, passengers with infants and so on.

“We want to bring a human touch in service.

“We told our staff to put themselves in the guests’ shoes,” a senior executive explained.

Once on board, passengers took pictures and videos as they settled for complimentary snacks of vegetarian and non-vegetarian sandwiches — a special for the first day.

Otherwise, passengers can purchase ready-to-eat meals such as poha, upma, cereals and beverages on board.

But certain snacks like sandwiches, wraps, rolls, salads and desserts need to be pre-booked only.

The packaging of these meals is being sourced from sustainably grown crops.

Sustainability was a visible flavour on the flight.

Dressed in sneakers and black-and-orange uniforms, the crew wore a look you don’t usually see in the cabin crew – smart but also comfortable.

Akasa has chosen recycled material for the uniforms and is the first airline to introduce sneakers made from recycled rubber.

The return trip (QP 1108), Ahmedabad to Mumbai, meanwhile, had 161 passengers, including many who took the first flight.

Founder-CEO Vinay Dube thanked all passengers and took their feedback as they deplaned on arrival in Mumbai.

“I usually take IndiGo or Vistara and look for punctuality, reliability and leg space in the cabin.

“This flight took off 20-25 minutes late but it was a decent experience. The crew was polite,” said Tej Shah, who flew on the second flight.

“The aircraft cabin was quiet and I didn’t experience engine noise.

“The USB charging port is an incentive,” added businessman Vivek Vakil who travelled on the first day.

Boeing’s India president Salil Gupte was among those who travelled on the inaugural flight along with his colleagues from the US.

“I hope the passengers today got the feel of the unique Akasa experience that is going to be very important for the success in the competitive Indian market,” Gupte said.

Earlier in the day, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia flagged off the airline’s inaugural flight (QP 1101) that carried 179 passengers, including the Akasa founders and their families.

There was no customary water-cannon salute for the aircraft upon its first arrival in Ahmedabad in an apparent eco-friendly gesture.

Scindia described the launch as a new dawn for the civil aviation sector, which has faced tough few years.

His deputy, Gen V K Singh, expressed hope that Akasa Air would provide superior service and ensure that other airlines, too, strive to improve their service.

Billionaire investor and Akasa shareholder Rakesh Jhunjhunwala quipped that Akasa Air has already changed the game.

“Seeing our chairs (aircraft seats), IndiGo has already ordered new ones,” he quipped.

Jhunjhunwala also said nowhere in the world has an airline been conceived in a year.

“A child is born in nine months; we took 12 months,” he said.

To fellow passengers before the first flight, Jhunjhunwala said, “We hope to make an airline that makes people comfortable.

“We are not a low-cost carrier. We are a frugal airline. We would like to save money wherever possible.”

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