India and central European connect will get a shot in the arm as LOT Polish Airlines connects Warsaw to Delhi with non-stops beginning September 19 this year. The Polish flag-carrier intends to be different by offering flyers a seamless, hassle-free connectivity to the entire European region through its hub at Warsaw. Michal Fijol, CCO and Member of the Board, LOT Polish Airlines was in Delhi recently. Navin Berry, Editor, tourismfirst.org caught up with him to understand the road ahead for the carrier, the challenge of competing with other European carriers ferrying Indian outbound to Europe and beyond, and the nitty-gritties of soon to commence operations in India. Edited excerpts:   

On the Airline’s USP

Michal Fijol
CCO and Member of the Board,
LOT Polish Airlines

An impeccable service and a dense network to Europe were two of the most important mainstays upon which the airline was going to base its foray in the Indian market, the CCO said. He suggested that the Warsaw airport was “compact and efficient”, making it a great base for Indians going beyond the Polish capital. He also stressed that the airline had no competition in the central European region as it was the first carrier connecting India to the region through non-stops.

Pricing critical

Reacting on the question of price positioning, he insisted that the price-points were going to be “competitive.” He conceded that pricing was an important factor for consumers, but also added that LOT Polish Airlines was proud of its product, indicating that prices were going to be competitive yet reflecting the quality and standards associated with the carrier. “Expect it to be competitively priced but equally keeping in mind the product quality,” Michal Fijol said.

The airline was going to offer three classes of service – first class, business class and economy. The product was top of the line and even the economy class service and feel was more on the premium economy side, he said. 

Indianization of the product

Michal Fijol shared that a working group had been set up to look into the product, culinary offerings and consumer interface to provide the flyers with an authentic Indian experience. “We are looking at an Indian or an India-based crew,” he said, adding that the airline was committed to providing passengers with a “comfortable and at home” experience. The CCO expressed hope in decoding the Indian market, noting that the airline had managed to penetrate the “very-demanding” Japanese market. “We are very confident of making it in the Indian market,” he noted.

On plans ahead in the Indian market

It was too early to speculate on the road ahead for the Polish flag-carrier, felt the CCO. He noted that the airline was going to plan the next move depending on how the Indian market reacted to the Delhi-Warsaw route. 

The financial matrix of the carrier

LOT Airlines had seen a flurry of activities in the past few years, we were told. The airline had doubled the passenger count and fleet in the past three years, the CCO informed. The airline also happens to be one of the handfuls in the world to have posted profits, being a 100 per cent government-owned carrier. The airline had received some funds a few years ago and was barred from receiving any further assistance for the next ten years, as mandated by the European Union Laws, thereby creating an “external pressure to remain profitable.”  “We have shown that it is possible for a state-owned airline to remain profitable,” he said. The carrier has posted “double-digit million dollars” profits in the past three years.

Boost to India-Poland connect

Non-stops between the two capitals was going to provide a major boost to bilateral movement of people, the CCO suggested. The timing of the new service was just at the right time, he felt, adding that Poland’s GDP had been growing at upwards of 5 per cent per annum. While it may not be as impressive as India’s growth, but there were many similarities between the two nations, he said. He substantiated his argument by pointing out that the IT sector and gaming, among others, were “quite strong” in Poland and were going to catalyse the airline’s success in the Indian market.

A view of the infra challenges

The challenge of overcoming a fast-chocking airport infrastructure was not a peculiar challenge for India, he suggested. The astounding growth in air passengers was bound to have some impact on the infra, he felt, also adding that major airports, the world over, were facing similar situations, most notably in Germany and France.  

Thoughts on the airline business

Pointing out the irony of airlines not making money, he said that each stakeholder associated with the airline business baring the carriers themselves were profitable and looking up. “Airport management is a very lucrative business in Europe. GDS is a very profitable business too. Everyone is profitable but the airlines,” he rued. Airlines were stimulator of growth and business and yet struggling to make profits was a major concern, he stressed.