SpiceJet announced that it will start operations with aircraft previously operated by Jet Airways starting Friday. The airline will deploy the first batch of five planes into operations.
These aircraft are configured in 168 seats with dual-class arrangement comprising 12 business class seats and 156 economy class seats. The airline operates the same aircraft (B737-800 NG) with 189 seats in its fleet, which is 12.5 percent more seats per flight.
SpiceJet currently has first three rows configured for what it calls the SpiceMax. In addition to this, the two emergency exit rows — including the one which does not recline — is also sold as SpiceMax. That makes it 30 SpiceMax seats in a B737-800NG aircraft. That’s close to 16 percent of the seats. These seats are priced at least Rs 1,000 higher than other seats and
come with its own set of benefits. New-Look Seat Arrangement
The airline has not changed the seating configuration of the Jet Airways aircraft and will operate the additional flights for which it has approvals in a dual-class configuration as it existed on the Jet aircraft. SpiceJet will sell the 12 business class seats as SpiceMax and will also sell the first row (bulk-head row) and the two emergency exit rows as SpiceMax. This makes it 30 seats again, but now it is close to 18 percent of the total seating.
Low-cost carriers try to pack as many seats as possible on board so that the per seat cost can drop and help effectively compete with lower costs. However, the CASK (Cost Per Available Seat Kilometer) for this aircraft will be significantly higher, unless the airline has got sweeter deals which reduce the cost of leasing and give a comparable CASK as its existing 189 seater B737-800NG aircraft.
Jet Airways did not have row 13 in its planes and had over the years changed the numbering to try and have similarity between its various sub fleets. SpiceJet is doing away with this and would sell the flights with the economy class seats starting from row 7, running sequentially up to row 26.
A Risky Move
The dual-class product is certain to increase confusion in the minds of the people because the airline is presently selling SpiceMax at the same cost with seats in the erstwhile business class cabin at the same rate as that of the SpiceMax seats in the economy class. This includes the bulk-head economy row, as well as the non-reclining emergency exit row. As a passenger, if you can snap up a SpiceMax seat in the business class section, it will be an unparalleled experience at Rs 1,000 because the airline is not charging any more as yet for those seats.
The airline had also launched its in-flight entertainment (IFE) with the BYOD (bring your own device) concept and named it Spice Engage. The complimentary IFE is available on 55 of its aircraft – a mix of Q400 and B737 series. However, this won’t be available on the ex-Jet Airways aircraft.
In the race to grab
maximum slots and make the most of the opportunity, the airline has gone from time tested and proven model of expansion to a near haphazard model of grabbing everything in its way. If not treaded carefully, this could spell trouble for the airline in the long run.
The rapid expansion is increasing the cost for the airline, which has seen a significant increase in its debt in recent years. From a near death experience in 2014 to aggressive expansion now, the airline has come a long way but some amount of caution will be needed to not go closer to where it was in 2014.
If the network stabilises, it will be interesting to see if the airline starts selling business class seats as SpiceMax Plus or Spice Business and manage and price the inventory separately or add a markup to SpiceMax and sell the 12 business class seats separately. The airline could also look at re-configuration of the aircraft when the aircraft is due for next major check and would be out of service.
Until then, the passengers can make the most of this opportunity by choosing aircraft whose aircraft type is B737168 (800AE) in the SpiceJet booking system and opting for the SpiceMax for Rs 1,000 more.
Ameya Joshi is the founder of aviation analysis blog NetworkThoughts.