Travelling on Kingfisher's final service out of Dubai
I’m a loyal customer of India’s Kingfisher Airlines. I first flew Kingfisher in Jan 2011 but since then I have flown them 15 times. I fly them as much as possible. I often pay a premium to fly them even when I have cheaper or non-stop flights available. I even recommend it to those who are looking for flights to India. The only time I flew another airline to India instead of Kingfisher I felt like I was cheating on a partner.
What I like the most about Kingfisher is how they make me feel special when I fly with them. Another reason I love to fly them is their social media engagement. I became a loyal Kingfisher customer because of how they engaged with me on social media the first time I flew with them and have been connected to me since then.
I have watched with growing unhappiness the decline of the airline over the last few months. In my mind, Kingfisher has been one of the finest airlines in the skies, truly deserving its 5-star rating by Skytrax.
So when Kingfisher announced that they would be pulling out of Dubai, I knew I had to be on the last flight, just for the sake of good old times. So I flew Dubai-Mumbai-Dubai, leaving on Friday, 23rd of March and returning on Saturday, 24th of March.
On Friday evening as I was getting ready to leave for the airport, I got a call from the Guest Relations Manager based at Dubai. When he introduced himself, my first fear was that he was calling to tell me that my flight was cancelled. Thankfully not. What he told me blew my mind away. “Sir, I’m calling to let you know that your favourite seat 9A has been booked by another passenger. I have blocked 9F for you. I have also kept aside Row 12 for you should you like to sit there. We will try to talk to the passenger who has taken 9A and try to get it back for you.” I said in my mind “Whoa, you really didn’t have to do this. Especially not in a difficult time such as this.”
So, this is the deal, whenever I’m flying Kingfisher, they know what my favourite seat is and always block it for me, no matter what the aircraft type. If it is an all-economy Airbus A320, it is 9A. At airports across the world, I have walked up to Kingfisher check-in counters and asked for my favourite seat, only to be told that they have already been pre-assigned for me. Score.
Jeffrey, the Guest Relations Manager who had called me earlier, was waiting with a complimentary lounge access card for me at the check-in counter. We spoke about the current state of affairs at Kingfisher and his words to me were ‘We are hoping for a miracle’, ‘pray for us’ and ‘we wish we had more passengers like you’. I got my boarding pass, shopped at the Duty Free and ambled to the Marhaba Lounge were I downed Chardonnay. Soon it was time for boarding and Jeffrey walked me to the waiting plane and ensured I was comfortably settled down.
IT044 flown by Airbus A320, registered VT-KFF had 50 odd passengers and was soon up in the air. The in-seat screen videos were conspicuous by the absence of Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya’s cheerful address. The captain made an announcement highlighting that the safety of passengers was Kingfisher’s priority and wouldn’t be compromised, perhaps an allusion to the negative press about the airline’s operational concerns.
Dinner was soon served by the Kingfisher damsels in red. I went for Chicken Biryani with Kheer. I’m usually not a huge fan of Kingfisher’s in-flight meals but this dish was gobsmackingly delicious. Dinner was followed by a drink of Whyte & Mackay Scotch Whiskey with club soda and ice. Soon we commenced our descent into Mumbai and upon landing I was on a bus to Mumbai CSI Airport Terminal. I then proceeded to kill a day in Mumbai.
I reported for my return flight IT043 to Dubai at 530pm. The once buzzing Kingfisher check-in counters at International Departures bore the look of a deserted ghost town. IT043 was Kingfisher’s last outbound flight to Dubai. I walked up to the counter and gave my passport to Avilon, the Guest Relations Manager whose face lit up on seeing my passport. “I saw you standing in the line and knew that would be you, Mr Rajagopal.” I’m often told that I’m bit of a celeb flyer among Kingfisher staff.
He then went on to hand me a bag with a beautifully wrapped gift. I just remembered that I had tweeted to Kingfisher the previous day before booking my journey about where I could get a Kingfisher plane model to keep as a souvenir of my travels with them. That was the plane. He then gave me a complimentary access to the Celebrations Lounge. My preferred row was already blocked on the plane. I think my eyes welled up at this point. He then walked with me to Immigration where we again spoke about the airline and its declining fortunes. I knew my words of solace would not have been of any help.
My flight was delayed by more than an hour, but I wasn’t complaining at all. I ambled around the expansive duty free at Mumbai Airport. There were around 50 odd passengers on the last flight, Airbus A320, registered VT-KFV. We took off and the crew went around with their business in a nonchalant manner trying hard not to show the worries of their carrier. Dinner was a repeat of the yummy Biryani and Whiskey fare. I was exhausted and dozed off, only waking up as my flight touched down at Dubai International.
I boarded the bus to Terminal 1 and thought of all the good times. When they held back a plane once at Bengaluru so that I could board after running late. The time I got a special tour of an Airbus A321 cockpit. When they chased me down at Chennai Airport to ensure that I had lounge access while waiting for my connecting flight. When the charming guest relations agent at Kochi told me how I was famous among them and then added that ‘we would have never left without you’ (another running late incident). When I discovered at Bangkok that they had my fav seat blocked without even me asking for it. When they served me first in the cabin on my first flight with them and asked me ‘Mr Rajagopal, what would you like to have for your meal?’, probably the first time the crew of any airline addressed me by name in 28 years of flying. About the numerous times I have been personally dropped off or fetched from a plane by their guest relations agents. About the times I have never had to stand in long security lines because I would always be escorted by a staff. All while flying Economy.
Thank you, Kingfisher for all the good times. You will be dearly missed. Thank you to all the Kingfisher staff who have served me well over a year. You have been truly exceptional in both the good times and the not so good times. I hope it works out for you. Safe travels!
Based in Dubai, Arun Rajagopal loves all things aviation. You can follow his #avgeek adventures on Twitter at @arun4 or on his blog www.arunrajagopal.com.