Flight Plan

A flood of passenger needs comes into sharp focus

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on August 21, 2018

Guided by the DGCA, domestic airlines are helping flyers to and from Kerala proactively

The rains and floods in Kerala brought to mind the horrific tales of earlier natural disasters and how those stranded had to run pillar to post to get out of flooded cities and towns and also the inconvenience they had to face in finding seats on flights.

Perhaps having learnt from earlier instances like the floods in Chennai in 2015 and the high prices that people had to pay for either flying into or out of the affected areas, this time around, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) advised scheduled domestic airlines to ensure that airfares for flights to/from Thiruvananthapuram and Calicut airports and nearby airports like Mangalore and Coimbatore be kept at an optimal level proportionate to the distance so that flyers are not inconvenienced.

Accordingly, airlines were requested to cap the maximum fare around ₹10,000 on longer routes and around ₹8,000 on shorter routes to/from Kerala and nearby airports.

In addition, the DGCA monitored airfares on 32 direct routes operating to and from Thiruvananthapuram, Calicut, Coimbatore and Mangalore. Observing a spike in airfares on a few routes, it advised the concerned airlines to cap fares on these flights.

Some relief also came on August 20 when the naval air base in Cochin was opened for commercial flights. Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, started operating flights to Bengaluru and announced that more destinations such as Coimbatore and Madurai were in the pipeline. IndiGo also announced operations of relief flights from the naval air base.

The Cochin International Airport is likely to open on August 26 and in the meantime SpiceJet has announced that it will operate 76 additional flights, including on Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru-Kozhikode, Bengaluru-Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode-Chennai and Dubai-Kozhikode routes.

IndiGo too announced that it will be operating additional flights to and from Kozhikode, Coimbatore and Thiruvanantha puram from August 19 to August 25 while Vistara shifted operations to Thiruvananthapuram and capped its fares.

As in the past when a natural disaster struck, airlines, this time around too, have announced that passengers booked on flights to and from Kochi will get a full refund on cancellation, waiver of fees for any changes and fare differences for booking date alterations. Airline officials are offering a word of advice, though — passengers should report well in time for their flights.

There is expected to be a heavy rush and airports like Thiruvanathapuram, which has seen a bulk of the diversion of scheduled flights to and from Kochi, may be pressed in terms of infrastructure and manpower from different agencies to cope with this added rush. However, despite these steps, airline officials maintain that it is going to be some time before the situation normalises. At the moment, passengers who have their original bookings out of Kochi are being rebooked onto flights on the same dates out of the alternate airports the airline is operating from, such as Thiruvananthapuram or Kozhikode or even Coimbatore. Passengers are being contacted individually by airlines to reconfirm their acceptance of these alternate arrangements.

What else can be done?

Airlines are expecting a surge in demand in the last week of August and first week of September as many of their passengers, who have come to Kerala for Onam and Eid, will want to head back.

Further, with schools in the Gulf and West Asia reopening in the first week of September, the added rush of returning families from Kerala is expected to contribute to the demand.

With flights already booked to capacity there is a strong possibility of a heavy backlog in the first week of September on flights operating from Kerala to West Asia.

Many also feel that airlines can do more during a natural disaster. For instance, airlines can encourage their catering vendors from whom they source food to prepare meal packets which can then be either distributed or air-dropped. Besides, airlines should be encouraged to get their employees trained in security and emergency handling so that when airport operations are shut, they can volunteer for relief work.

In addition, posting senior management from the regional or corporate office to oversee operations and/or recovery plans for a few weeks after the disaster has ebbed will also help bring things to normal faster, says a senior airline official.

Some industry watchers add that the government too can help by institutionalising a system whereby, when there is a natural disaster, airlines, especially foreign airlines, are allowed to operate extra flights either through operating larger aircraft or more flights to the area without seeking prior permission.

Published on August 21, 2018

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