IndiGo’s ASEAN network will need a massive rejig to connect with Air France – KLM

A few days ago, newspapers were full of reports of Air France – KLM wanting to expand the current codeshare with IndiGo beyond the current domestic routes and take it international, especially in the neighbourhood. Few publications also listed out the countries where the airline wants to have a codeshare with IndiGo. They included Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Over the years, IndiGo has had steady codeshare partnership with multiple carriers. It started with Turkish Airlines where it offers passengers multiple options in Europe via Istanbul. The airline also has a codeshare partnership with Qatar Airways, where Qatar Airways offers IndiGo flights for its passengers. The airline later got into a codeshare agreement with American Airlines, Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Atlantic and Air France – KLM, largely driven by domestic connections. 

IndiGo recently launched a spate of red eye flights from Mumbai, all operated from T2 – which help reduce connection time and remain convenient for passengers connecting beyond Mumbai. With this backdrop, Air France – KLM beyond India will be an interesting bet, but a cursory look at the network tells me that it will require a lot of changes in IndiGo’s ASEAN / SAARC network to have a partnership which is competitive. 

IndiGo and Air France – KLM codeshare 

Air France – KLM and IndiGo announced their codeshare partnership in December 2021 and was operationalised last May. This led to Air France and KLM offering their customers access to 30 new Indian destinations with the Indian leg being operated by IndiGo, while offering over 150 destinations in Europe and Americas for passengers originating in India. 

On departure from their respective hubs in Paris and Amsterdam, Air France and KLM serve four destinations in India: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru.

Air France operates daily services to Paris from Delhi and Mumbai and the booking engine shows six weekly to Bengaluru and five weekly to Chennai for bookings till end of this month. KLM offers daily flights to Amsterdam from Delhi and Mumbai, and a six weekly flight from Bengaluru. KLM does not operate to Chennai. 

IndiGo’s SE Asia / ASEAN network

IndiGo – the country’s largest carrier by fleet and domestic market share, has been expanding rapidly on international routes and has seen return to multiple routes where it operated pre-pandemic. Currently the airline operates to Kathmandu, Nepal with triple daily flights from Delhi, daily from Mumbai; to Dhaka, Bangladesh with daily from Delhi and Mumbai, 12x weekly from Kolkata, 6x weekly from Chennai and Hyderabad. To Colombo, it operates from Chennai and Bengaluru.

The airline also has flights to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore and Male but either Air France or KLM or both operate to each of these except Male.

The current connections

A look at the connections shows that flights of Air France and KLM are in sync at Mumbai and Bengaluru but have a three hour gap at Delhi. The connection times range from medium to high in most cases and may not be optimum for the traveler. 

What needs to change?

IndiGo currently operates three daily flights to Kathmandu from Delhi and all of them are quick turn-around ones. The shortest outbound connection is at 0750 hours, while on the return the arrival from Kathmandu is at 18:05 hours. There have always been concerns about operations at Kathmandu, given the nature of the airport and terrain. The airline may have to advance the first departure and delay the last one to ensure optimum connection times. 

The situation could be different from Dhaka, where the airline could rotate aircraft such that it operates Delhi – Dhaka – Kolkata – Dhaka – Delhi, ensuring it leaves earlier than present from Delhi and reaches a little later than present, helping reduce connection time. There also remains an option to swap planes at Dhaka from Mumbai and Delhi to improve timings at both ends, such that they connect to international connections.

For the Mumbai Kathmandu leg, a similar rotation of Mumbai – Kathmandu – Delhi -Kathmandu – Mumbai could improve connection timings. The best connection is to Colombo via Chennai but the return is not.

While the traffic at these three airports may be much lesser than Indian airports – the complexity of operations is high with limited parking bays and runway capacity and thus the swaps may look very good on paper but may not work in reality. 

In the past, both Kingfisher and Jet Airways have used these destinations to feed its own flights and the best way has been to either have multiple flights or what is known as a “W” flight where Kingfisher Airlines operated Chennai – Colombo – Bengaluru – Colombo – Chennai flight, with the Colombo – Bengaluru flight connecting to Bengaluru – London and the London flight getting passengers to connect to Colombo from Bengaluru.

Network Thoughts

Like I always keep saying there are multiple angles to network planning. The existing flights to Kathmandu, Dhaka and Colombo have their own traffic and connections. To ensure that connections improve for Air France and KLM, IndiGo may not sacrifice its own connections which would have been established in the market by now. 

Dropping the prices for a long transit is one way of getting loads, besides one needs to see the real traffic to Paris and Amsterdam from these three points and the options already available, since the likes of Emirates are present on these routes with a one-stop to not just Paris or Amsterdam but to many other destinations in Europe. 

All in all, if this proposition goes through – it establishes IndiGo as a strong player in this space but then what options does a foreign airline have? To work with Air India (a Star Alliance carrier) or to work with IndiGo. SpiceJet does not have the system readiness or the network to execute a codeshare, Go FIRST has suspended operations and Akasa Air is very small at the moment.

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