This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

It almost seems like T.S. Eliot wrote these lines in The Hollow Men, way back in 1925, just for Jet Airways. India’s favourite airline for the past more than 25 years folded up earlier this week. I felt all the more terrible, almost like a personal loss, as I had been one of the passengers on its first ever flight, 9W 321, from Bombay to Ahmedabad on 5 May 1993. I still have the boarding pass somewhere in my personal files.

Even when it launched, Jet Airways as an airline stood out for its panache: smart, stylish, swish, savvy, smiling. The air-hostesses looked chic; they were elegantly turned out; they were well-groomed; they were warm and welcoming. The aircraft were clean. The cutlery and crockery was of good quality. The food was well presented. The menus were well chosen. The check-in was mostly hassle-free. The lounges were well appointed. The flights were almost always on time. It didn’t take me much thought to dump Indian Airlines, then the No.1 carrier, sign up as a Jet Privilege member and stay in the Platinum classification forever after. In fact, I must have clocked at least a couple of million miles on Jet, flying both domestic and international over the years, and a couple of hundred thousand privilege miles are now lost with the demise of the airline, though the company has JPMiles are secure.

I don’t know what killed Jet. Was it that the demise of East-West, Modiluft and Damania made it overconfident? Was it the Sahara acquisition? Was it that Jet and JetLite should never have co-existed? Was it that despite Kingfisher making it look stodgy, it still did not wake up to competition? Was it that it just ignored the likes of IndiGo and SpiceJet? Was it that Naresh Goyal ran a company that was too centralized? Was it that its international operations got management to ignore the domestic market? Was it the spiraling fuel costs? Was it the unhappy marriage to Etihad? Perhaps the answer is a “yes" or “maybe" to each of these questions.

Jet had trouble coming its way for the past couple of years, but just did not know how to deal with it.

Jet, even in its going belly-up, can still pride itself in the fact that it was truly India’s finest home-spun airline brand. It was with the little things—the hot and cold towels, the variety of welcome drinks to choose from, the nicely laid-out menu, the clean, crisp pillows, the well-folded blankets, the 180-degrees flat beds on international flights, the complimentary night-wear, the duvets, the excellent Indian cuisine, the masala chai—that Jet set standards that became the norm for the entire industry. Honestly, all things remaining constant, Jet would always be my first choice to fly, simply because I liked the airline, and they cared for me.

For a short period, yes, I did flirt with Kingfisher. But I just found it a bit over-the-top, and the over-powering red colour sort of turned me off.

Reports say the Jet shutdown is temporary. I am not so sure. More than 15,000 jobs are at stake. I feel sorry for the staff. They are a nice bunch. Well-mannered. Friendly. Helpful. Quite unlike staff on most of the low-cost carriers—all trained not to smile. I feel bad for Naresh Goyal, too. He really did build a great airline, a great brand.

Whatever happens eventually to Jet Airways, it will go down in history as a trendsetter and an innovator: a brand that set standards, and got an entire industry to emulate them. In its saddest hour, I still salute Jet: for its spirit, its service excellence and, yes, the smiles of its staff.

An adman, Sandeep Goyal is former chairman and joint venture partner of Dentsu in India.