Flight Plan

Steep fare scare: blame it on the market

Ashwini Phadnis Varun Aggarwal | Updated on March 10, 2018

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Airlines might have played by the rules, but not by the spirit during the floods

As the people of Chennai struggled to stay afloat in the face of government apathy in the aftermath of the December floods, another kind of rage was building up. Social media was awash with posts criticising the domestic airlines for hiking fares, limiting the options for those looking to reach, or leave, the southern metro. A user on Twitter shared a screen shot from a travel portal that allegedly showed Jet Airways charging ₹80,000 for a Bengaluru-Delhi flight on December 9.

On Facebook, an irate flier, alleged that he was overcharged for, what another domestic airline claimed was the only seat that was left on a flight from Bengaluru. But he posted pictures of empty seats in the flight.

Was it another case of forged pictures and rumours making the rounds on social media? Or, were the airlines really over-charging, as alleged?


Stung by the tweet, Jet Airways promptly issued a statement, including a screenshot of its website that showed a sample of normal-looking fares for December 9. In an earlier statement, it had said, “Some fares seen on third-party online travel portals are constructed by those websites by combining the last available premier cabin seats on indirect routes with stopovers to create a roundabout itinerary.”

In other words, fares go up when the search function in a travel portal combines fares of two separate airlines; and includes only premier class on flights with at least one stop. While airlines maintained fares had not skyrocketed, some of them even cut their fares. 

A spokesperson of Vistara told BusinessLine, “In order to support the relief activities we in fact slashed the prices of unsold seats on the relevant sectors.”

So didn’t the fares go up at all?

“With Chennai airport being closed for a few days on account of the floods, airfares for flights from airports close to Chennai went up by three to five times of what they were earlier,” concedes Sharat Dhall, President of travel portal Yatra.com. But he adds, “This was largely because demand, both in and out of these airports, increased. The fares were also fuelled by passengers, who chose to take the road either to reach or leave Chennai, from nearby airports.


But when protests about soaring fares grew louder, Ashok Gajapathi Raju, the Union Civil Aviation Minister, had to provide an explanation. “Usually, airlines declare their minimum and maximum (fares) on internet. This is not a regulated fare. It happens like that. It is a free market, where some people get cheap (tickets) and others don't,” says Raju. 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the airline watchdog, only steps in when the upper bands of the air fares, which are declared by airlines every month, are breached. A closer look at the Air India website, helps understand this better. If a passenger, flying from Agartala to Bengaluru via Kolkata, books a ticket at least 30 days prior the journey, then the base fare is will be ₹2,350.

If the booking is done 14 days prior to the journey, then the base fare goes up to ₹4,250, which zooms to ₹7,350, two days before the passenger is due to catch the flight. If the passenger books a ticket on the day of the flight, the fare will vary from ₹7,750 to ₹17,950. In addition, the flier will have to pay ₹3,650 as fuel surcharge. 

So technically, the airlines may not be at fault.

Additional reporting by TE Raja Simhan

Published on December 15, 2015

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