India's booming economy, the deregulation of the aviation industry, and government's goal to enhance regional connectivity brought about a huge increase in the number of domestic airlines in India in recent years. Not all of them have survived though, with Jet Airways being the latest casualty. It developed major financial issues and folded in early 2019. Passengers can now choose from two full-service airlines (one of which is government-owned), four low-cost carriers, and several regional airlines. To help you make the right decision when flying, here's an overview of what you can expect from each airline.
Do note that all domestic Indian airlines allow check-in baggage of up to 15 kilograms free of cost, except for Air India (which allows up to 25 kilograms). In addition, be aware that punctuality isn't the strong suit of India's domestic airlines. Even the most punctual airlines are late about 30% of the time.
Air India is India's government-owned, full-service airline. It was founded in 1932 by J. R. D. Tata (considered to be the father of aviation in India) and called Tata Airlines, before becoming Air India in 1946. The airline is based in Delhi and has a secondary hub in Mumbai. Its fleet Boeing and Airbus aircraft flies to 102 destinations -- 57 of these are domestic and 45 international. Unfortunately, Air India has been experiencing financial troubles for a number of years. Its market share has dropped significantly, to just under 12%, and the Indian government has announced plans to privatize it. Flights are delayed about 60% of the time, and cancellations are common. Although complimentary meals are provided, only vegetarian food is available on domestic flights. On the positive side, the airline has well-planned routes and flight schedules, flies to most destinations in India, is surprisingly reliable when it comes to baggage handling, and has comfortable seats with plenty of legroom.
India's only private full-service airline, Vistara commenced operations in January 2015 and is based in Delhi. The airline is a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons. It aims to provide a luxurious travel experience and elevated level of personalized customer service, and it is succeeding. Although Vistara's share of the domestic Indian market is currently only 6%, the airline rates high on satisfaction. It provides a robust loyalty program, flies from newer terminals within India, has a flagship lounge at Delhi airport, and is the first airline to offer in-flight Internet access in India. Passengers have the choice of three class configurations -- economy, premium economy, and business. Of importance, the seats are super comfortable. Onboard meals are also top quality, with catering services provided by TajSATS (the caterer for highly-rated Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways). The airline has expanded to nearly 35 destinations, including five international destinations, and has a fleet of Boeing 737-800NG and Airbus A320 aircraft. On-time performance is excellent.
Award-winning IndiGo Airlines is considered to be India's best low-cost carrier. This very popular airline has managed to capture almost 50% of the Indian domestic market since it started operating mid 2006 (initially as a private company before being listed on the National Stock Exchange in November 2015). Despite its cheap fares, IndiGo is punctual, and maintains a high level of customer service and baggage handling. It also provides excellent connectivity, with flights to 63 domestic destinations and 24 international destinations across Asia. If you're looking to travel with a low cost airline, IndiGo offers top value for money.
SpiceJet is India's second largest low-cost carrier. This airline, which is listed on the National Stock Exchange, started operating in mid 2005 and grew steadily until financial problems almost forced it to fold in 2014. SpiceJet received new funding in early 2015 and a new logo in mid 2015. The airline recovered astoundingly well under new management and quickly became profitable. In addition, it has almost regained its market share, which currently stands at 16.5%. SpiceJet flies to 54 domestic and 15 international destinations from its hubs at Delhi and Hyderabad. As well as low-cost and discounted fares, SpiceJet offers premium services such as extra leg room and priority baggage handling under the name SpiceMax. The airline's passenger load factor of more than 90% is consistently the highest in India. The only drawback is its recent drop in on-time performance.
GoAir is a small privately-owned, low-cost carrier that commenced operating in late 2005. The Mumbai-based airline prefers to focus on profitability rather than expanding and increasing its market share of 10%. GoAir's fleet of Airbus A320 airplanes flies to 27 domestic and nine international destinations, including remote spots such as Leh, Srinagar, and Guwahati. The airline offers some of the cheapest domestic fares available in India. Pleasingly, it has greatly improved its punctuality in recent years too.
AirAsia entered the Indian market in June 2014, as the first foreign airline to set up a subsidiary in India. This low-cost carrier is a joint venture between AirAsia and Tata Sons. It's based in Bangalore and also has a hub in Delhi for its north Indian operations. The airline started its domestic operations with a Bangalore-Goa flight. It now has a market share of about 7% and flies to 21 destinations across India. The fleet consists of 30 Airbus A320-200 aircraft. Of concern is the number of controversies the airline has been involved in since it was founded in India, including an alleged violation of safety norms that's being investigated.
Trujet is a regional south Indian airline that's based in Hyderabad. It started operating in July 2015 to connect major cities with Tier II and III cities. What sets it apart is that it targets pilgrims, and hence its destinations include places such as Aurangabad (the airline provides passengers with a free bus from the airport to Shirdi) and Tirupati. Privately-owned Trujet is backed by several investors and promoted by Telugu actor Ram Charan. It has a growing fleet of seven ATR 72 aircraft, and aims to soon list on the stock exchange after breaking even financially.
This small, new commuter airline had its first flight in January 2019, and is based in Bangalore. It connects selected regional destinations within Karnataka state and six other cities -- Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Mumbai (Maharashtra), Ajmer (Rajasthan), and Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh). The airline uses a fleet of three Embraer 145LR aircraft.
Air Deccan is back (albeit, not with a bang)! Originally India's first low-cost carrier, it operated from 2003-2007 before being taken over by Kingfisher Airlines (which shut down in 2012). This time, Air Deccan is focusing on flying to regional destinations where there is little or no air service, and minimal competition with major airlines. It commenced in 2017 and currently only services Gujarat with a fleet two 18-seater Beechcraft 1900D aircraft.