Why can't India’s airlines make inflight announcements in regional languages?

One of the common feedback from India’s airline passengers- mostly from South India is that airlines are not making in-flight announcements in their regional languages. Almost all announcements are made only in English and Hindi, putting many passengers whose mother tongue could be Kannada/Tamil/Malayalam etc at a disadvantage. Unless their Hindi/English is good, they can’t make good understanding of what is being announced. This could be a danger during real emergency.
In this post, let us assess what it takes for airlines to make in-flight announcements in regional languages.

Arguments against the need for using regional languages in-flight
Counter Argument
There’re too many languages in India- not possible to keep explaining in every language
Demand is to use regional language prevailing in flight origin, destination. At max this will result in need for 4 languages- English, Hindi (assuming it is retained), Regional Language 1 and Regional Language 2 (For a Chennai-Kochi flight, Tamil & Malayalam, For Chennai –Coimbatore flight, only Tamil extra.
Cabin crew are from different parts of India and keep flying to dozens of cities every day all around the country- they can’t be expected to learn every regional language
Fair enough. At the minimum recorded announcements can be used. At the best, airlines can ensure at least one of the cabin crew speaks regional language
Air Passengers are fairly educated people- they can understand English/Hindi
Not true. Now lots of people are taking to the skies, not just well educated people. Local language is more effective on these passengers
No one really cares for inflight announcement- why bother with multiple languages
Of course most regular passengers are used to it and don’t pay attention. But the safety announcement and other rules are there for a reason. In case of real emergency following/not following these instructions can make a difference between life and death. Not being able to understand these instructions will make it worse for affected passengers and others.
Is it fair to drag airlines into language war and add to their already long list of complexities and headaches?
This is for each passenger to decide. If you think getting served in your own language is really useful/required then ask for it. For those who're not strong in Hindi/English I am sure regional language will help. Serving in local language also gives the airline some brownie points and will help get more loyal customers. Most countries world wide serve their customers in multiple languages (Singapore has a 3 language policy- English, Chinese and Tamil)- Many European airlines service in their home country language besides English. Just that in India it is a lot more complex with 20+ languages to cater, so airlines, regulators and passengers need to consider these complexities.

Hyderabad airport serves in 4 languages- English, Hindi, Urdu, Telugu. Almost all airports do use local language- the above concern is only for in-flight announcements by airlines, which is done in only say English and Hindi even for a Chennai-Madurai flight.

Is it impossible to use regional languages?
No. If there is a will, there is a way. Several international airlines are making attempt to use regional languages of India to get closer to country’s passengers. Lufthansa makes critical announcements in Tamil on its Chennai bound flight. [Read my Lufthansa Premium economy experience] Even menu are in Tamil. Indians flying in few other airlines have also experienced hospitality in their own language and have appreciated it.

So what is the problem with India based airlines to use regional languages?
1. Demand is not strong enough: I believe the airline bosses haven’t felt the need to service Indians in their regional languages- except some occasional facebook rants, most passengers have got used to service in Hindi and English, hence demand for regional language hasn’t been strong enough.
2. Rostering issues: An aircraft may fly through half a dozen language zones in a single day- it may start from Delhi, fly to Mumbai, then to Kochi, then onwards to Chennai, then to Vizag, then to Kolkata and to Guwahati. So which language cabin crew to assign to this aircraft? Obviously not possible to have 7+ crew with at least one knowing Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Assamese. This adds a new level of complexity to cabin crew hiring, training and deployment process, which means more money.
Easy way out for airlines (what airlines can do in immediate future):
  • Play emergency procedures and critical announcements in regional languages, through recorded audio if trained crew is not available
  • Support regional languages in airline app. Customers who want service in specific language should be able to download and get updates/info in their own language
  • Try to manage crew hiring and rostering such that wherever possible someone speaking local language is onboard. May be not possible all the time on all the flight, but if a passenger wanting local language service gets it in say 2 out of 10 flights, he will still be happy and be loyal to the airline. Over time airlines can try how to improvise on this.
  • I feel it is lot easier to support regional languages on the ATR fleet which keep flying short haul distances within a state or within a few states. If there's an ATR doing rounds only in South India-say Hyderabad-Chennai-Bengaluru-Kochi-Goa-Hyderabad, then it is easier to staff it such that crew can speak at least 2-3 of the 4-5 South Indian languages. If a crew knows one south Indian language, he/she can easily pickup a few critical words in one other south Indian language as well.
What you can do as a passenger?
  • Use available feedback opportunities to communicate to airline that you'd prefer services in your language.
  • If you find an airline serving you in your language, do leave a positive feedback and patron that airline more.
Nothing is impossible- if companies feel the pressure or realize the benefits of doing something, they will at least try.

What are your thoughts? Would you vote for airlines to serve you in your mother tongue? Would you prefer an airline that does over another airline that only uses English & Hindi, even if the other airline is cheaper and more comfortable? Do share below.

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  1. Agree that having recorded safety measures is best option as these are very important. However having crew that is fluent in all languages of flight route is not possible. What if flight crew asks for assistance to some passenger who could act as translator if a customer who is not equipped in Hindi or English is on board? That way the regular conversation like asking flight attendants for meal options or other mundane help which has nothing to do with safety instructions can be managed.

    1. Yes, usually co-passengers will help in case of such issues

  2. If there are in-flight entertainment systems- headphone, screen etc, then this can become easy.
    Pre-recorded instructions can be there.
    Passengers can wear the headphones, choose their language & hear & read the instructions! But, not all flights have this facility.

    1. Airlines are now moving from having inflight entertainment system to streaming entertainment on passenger's own devices- lot economical. So airlnes can provide local language content on the app.

  3. Civil Aviation rules in India mandates use of English and Hindi in all flights/routes leaving optional status for State official languages. When there is no policy or rule, flight operators/companies nicely ignore it . This is usual flawed language policy in India, where Hindi knowing people are given all advantages and Hindi will used beside English all over the country though Hindi is not commonly used in most parts of India. It is high time for govt to frame and enforce policies to mandate the use of source and destination places where flight is operating.. and at least one or two crew must be trained with conversation abilities in required languages. Its a business where customer pay for service and they have to get served comfortably.


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