An ode to Jet Airways

With the suspension of flight operations by India’s Jet Airways, and rival airlines lining up to take over its airport slots in Delhi and Mumbai, it feels like the end game for another of India’s private airlines. Like Kingfisher before it, Jet grew too big, too quickly, and put optimistic acquisitions ahead of sound business decisions.

From a personal perspective, though, I’ll mourn Jet’s passing. Jet was always my go-to airline in India, an island of calm in a chaotic subcontinent. Even though the airline’s much touted ISO 9001 rating was for service rather than safety, Jet always felt like a stable, safe operation.

Boarding at a small, regional airport such as Leh or Bagdogra, climbing onto a Jet aircraft felt like entering the genteel, comforting world of international airspace, even for a short domestic hop. In-flight amenities were international standard, with neat subcontinental flourishes, like the cooling jal jeera (lemon juice with mint and cumin) served when boarding in business class.

In short, Jet Airways felt like a grown-up airline, with a network befitting a national carrier, whereas the national domestic carrier, Indian Airlines (since subsumed into Air India) seemed to be stuck in a 1980s time warp, from the livery down to the lackadaisical service. I still remember being served a lunch hand-made in the departure lounge to carry on board myself on my first internal flight on Indian Airlines in the early 1990s.

Plane wing with mountains on the approach to Leh
Mountains crowd in on the hair-raising approach to Leh © Joe Bindloss

By contrast, service on Jet was generally excellent, delays were infrequent, and the fleet was regularly refreshed with gleaming new planes that offered reassurance for nervous flyers, particularly when changing from the heirloom aircraft used by carriers such as Alliance Air to buzz around the Northeast States.

It may be that Jet finds a sponsor to save it from liquidation, in which case the cessation of flights will be temporary, as promised on the Jet Airways website. But with staff being poached by other companies, that may be a thin hope. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing a lone bugle salute for the airline that carried me safety through the Indian skies for more than 20 years.

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