Monday, April 10, 2017

How l’affaire Gaikwad burnished AI brand

L’affaire Gaikwad has ended with Air India lifting its ban on flying the Shiv Sena Member of Parliament after he expressed regret for the incident in which he was caught on camera assaulting the carrier’s cabin crew. 

What impact will this episode have on the brand equity of the national carrier and the other airlines that joined hands with it? It’s not the first time they have had to encounter such behaviour, though perhaps not of this magnitude. Brand strategists believe Air India has redeemed its reputation somewhat by standing up to the disorderly MP, but add that much more needs to be done.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Integrated Brand-Comm, is not sure if the incident will affect the brand. The ban’s revocation is regrettable, but everyone knows Air India is government-owned and it may not come out unfavourably, he says. Harish Bijoor, brand strategy expert and CEO, Harish 

Bijoor Consults, says the incident involving an errant politician does many things from a brand image point of view. For one, the airline “became the first one to really implement a no-fly list, even if it was a short list of one.”
It also sends a message to fliers across all airlines that they cannot behave like lords. Give respect and take respect is the norm that has been reinforced with this incident, he adds.

Raghu Viswanath of Vertebrand believes it does not affect the brand equity of Air India one way or the other.
The only good part was the travel ban, considering that politicians and other VIPs have ridden roughshod over airlines over the years. “Air India, at least, got people to believe it has some spine, and that the civil rights of individuals and businesses are getting more respect under this regime,” he said.

Air India draws frequent criticism for its poor service, and the tendency to delay flights for VIPs. 

However, the airline’s stand in this case has secured widespread support. Air India and the other airlines stood by their employees in the face of unreasonable behaviour, however much the axiom of ‘the customer is always right’ holds sway.

“We have to commend the CEO,” says Brand-Comm’s Sridhar.

The ban’s rollback, if done without a proper enquiry or and an apology, will create “cynicism among employees”, says Bijoor.

Vertebrand’s Viswanath says a single incident cannot improve the image. For sustainable brand equity, Air India must focus on efficiency of service, the quality of its aircraft and hospitality of its staff.

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