Value-for-money airfares, skilful use of social media, an enjoyable cabin experience, operational savings achieved via a new and homogenous fleet and bright, snappy branding. That’s behind the continuing expansion of one of the world’s youngest airlines.
Group and leisure travellers flying between east and southeast Asia and Australia who’ve recently spotted Scoot planes – in their distinctive white and yolk-yellow livery – at airports can expect to see more of them in future.
Campbell Wilson, the carrier’s pragmatic CEO, says it all represents the beginning of something special. “Our focus is now on growth, more aircraft, more routes, new destinations and new regions so we realise the potential our operating platform offers,” explains Campbell, who gave an interview to The Siteseer.
Singapore Airlines founded Scoot in 2011, and commenced flights in 2012. Since then it’s expanded to a fleet of nine aircraft, having taken delivery of two 787 Dreamliners in October alone and with more planes and destination launches in the pipeline. “We’ll have ten 787s by end of 2015, at the half-way mark of our order book of twenty,” says Campbell.
Scoot’s strategy includes targeting group and independent travellers, with group bookings particularly strong from China where the capacity and cabin experience of the Dreamliners set it apart from other low-cost carriers. “The exceptional value we offer makes it compelling for groups to pick Scoot over full-service carrier options,” says Campbell.
The all-787 Dreamliner fleet operates between Singapore and Sydney, Gold Coast, Bangkok, Taipei, Tokyo, Tianjin, Shenyang, Nanjing, Qingdao, Seoul, Hong Kong, Perth, Osaka, Kaohsiung, Hangzhou and Melbourne.
The 787s serve as an important differentiator for Scoot for two main reasons, Campbell says. The experience on board is generally better than that on other low-cost carriers in the Asia-Pacific. Secondly, the planes’ efficiency – their low mass and composite construction places them among the most fuel-efficient aircraft in the world – and the maintenance of a homogenous fleet support lower operating costs. The airline also has flexibility of utilisation, using two versions of the 787, to adjust to higher demand or thinner routes as needed.
At what price?
It means Scoot can offer exceptionally low prices. Consider a recent set of promotional fares from Melbourne or Sydney to Singapore. They started at $179, and from Perth to Singapore they were $119. Sydney to Hong Kong was $239 and Sydney to Bangkok $119. Seats in “ScootBiz,” the business-class option, were selling for $399 each way for a Sydney-Singapore return flight. That challenges almost all economy fares, Scoot representatives observe.
As with other low-cost carriers, a variety of extras ranging from blankets to booze cost more, but Campbell Wilson points out that this is about giving travellers what they want – and choice. This includes a range of seat types including child-free “Scoot-in-Silence” options, in-flight internet, in-seat power and other attributes that many full service carriers don’t offer.”
“Scoot provides the empowerment to customise as suits your own interests so you don’t subsidise the choices of others,” he says.
The airline recently improved its ScootBiz, maintaining a seat with generous seat pitch and adjustable headrests, priority check-in and boarding, and one alcoholic drink, while including 30 kilos of baggage, free inflight entertainment streaming on tablets or mobile devices, premium meals and priority disembarkation.
It also announced a partnership with Singapore Airlines’ “KrisFlyer” program, offering guests the option to earn frequent flyer miles on eligible fares, get preferred seats, fast boarding and a flight or name-change fee waiver. KrisFlyer members can redeem Scoot flights with their frequent flyer miles.
Of course there’ve been teething problems, says Campbell. Any business plan struggles to survive contact with the real world, and Scoot’s has been no exception. “But we’ve remained nimble, adjusted as appropriate and kept true to our objectives,” he says. “We’ve established a respected brand, a good reputation, a sustainable economic footing and the systems necessary to support the size of airline we’ll become.”
One of the reasons for apparently good, and improving, brand recognition is Scoot’s use of social media, which may provide interesting lessons for other businesses. Campbell points to the target audience, which is mainly “the young, and the young-at-heart”. Acknowledging that young people want to feel connected (“and as the parents know, to spend most of their day on social media”) it’s used social media to reach audiences at every opportunity – from selecting taglines to choosing aircraft names, even helping set launch fares.
The company has learned some hard lessons along the way in this respect, especially in the early days. In January 2013, for example, it had a technical glitch on one of the doors on an aircraft flying from Singapore to Bangkok, causing a flight delay. “We learned that keyboard warriors can excite one other into a frenzy. So we elected to post a response, from me, on our Facebook page for the consumption of our community and media.
“This was an early lesson on showing we’re serious about facing up to issues and not hiding behind a ‘spokesperson’ to explain what we’re doing, that we’re listening and constantly improving, and to remind people there’s often more than meets the eye to such events.”
Buffering against adversity
Operational issues like weather delays, medical diversions or technical glitches affect every airline, Campbell observes. They’re more apparent when it has a small fleet or operates with high aircraft utilisation, meaning there’s less “buffer”. As the Scoot fleet has grown, its ability to minimise the impact from such events has increased, and with it its schedule reliability.
“It will increase further as we [grow the fleet] from ten to twenty aircraft in the next couple of years. However nothing comes for free. The more fat we build into the system, the higher airfares will have to be, which is of course something we want to avoid. We’re therefore clear that, though ninety-nine times out of a hundred we’ll get to your destination within fifteen minutes of schedule – and save you up to fifty percent in the process – you should always take travel insurance for the one time we may not.”
“From a spreadsheet and group of people you could count on one hand to nearly a thousand people, ten aircraft, seventeen destinations and six million guests it’s been an incredible journey. I’ve been lucky to have had a wonderful group of colleagues – cabin crew, pilots, ground staff, department heads – for making Scoot what it’s become.”
Meanwhile the strategy for partnering with Thailand’s Nok Air on a “NokScoot” joint venture is for Scoot to develop a new market segment and open up routes into Asia while capitalising on Thailand’s position as a tourist destination, he says.
Tigerair, partly owned by Singapore Airlines, is a “natural partner” for Scoot because their networks are complementary. Eventually the two airlines’ reservations systems will merge.
I recently flew Sydney-Bangkok return via Singapore, sitting up front in ScootBiz. Here are my impressions:
As other scribes have noted, ScootBiz seats aren’t like those in traditional business class; they’re more like those in premium economy. Having said that, they’re spacious, recline nicely and have an extending footrest which helps the incumbent to relax and stretch out. As evidence, and an insomniac, I was pleased to get several hours’ sleep on the Singapore-Sydney stretch. The connections to and from Bangkok were smooth and slightly ahead of time in each instance.
There was in-seat power with universal sockets so I could charge my phone, and onboard wifi. Scoot has no individual entertainment screens but you can login to buy movies and watch them on your phone or iPad. The arrangement, which cuts the aircraft’s weight, works well. If you don’t want movies, you don’t have to watch or pay for them; if you do, you can opt in for USD 11 (about 15 Australian or Singapore dollars) to access all the films and TV shows available.
A significant bonus for me was that the 787’s better pressurisation meant I arrived at my destination after each leg feeling much fresher and less dehydrated than I do on other planes. I usually guzzle water on long-haul flights. This time I had two or three cups of water on the Sydney-Singapore sector and felt fine, even though I’d had red wine with my meals.
Young, energetic brand
I like the brand. The staff, who call themselves “Scootees” and talk about “Scootability” and “Scootitude,” are young, energetic and enthusiastic and their snappy service and smiles align with the yellow, black and dark-blue branding of their uniforms and the planes themselves.
Then there’s the matter of one of the most whinged-about topics in the usual litany of complaints about long-distance travel: airline food. It was good. As part of my ticketing arrangements on the eight-hour Sydney-Singapore leg, I was served a piping-hot Hainan chicken with rice, vegetables and chilli sauce and my choice of drink. Beers and wine thereafter were seven or eight dollars each, and a snack later in the flight, a pair of hot ham and cheese croissants, was $12.
On one leg of my round trip, the cabin was slightly chilly. Perhaps subconsciously realising I was headed for steamy Singapore, I didn’t think I’d need a jumper. So I ordered a blanket for $15. Next time, if I can remember, I’ll bring a sweater in case I need to warm up.
All this for less than what you’d pay in economy in other airlines. Scoot is clearly giving the market what it wants, which was why the planes were full or close to it. And that’s why I intend to Scoot off again some time soon.