Nagpur: As the pandemic tapered off in February, lakhs of excited families planning domestic vacations to exotic locales by flights got a shock bigger than a Covid-19 positive test report.
The airfares of all airlines to various destinations had suddenly shot up – and drastically – for seats on the trunk or non-trunk routes, irrespective of the flight timings, the particular carrier, the type of aircraft, direct or hopping services, the prevailing fuel prices, etc.
“Welcome to ugly world of ‘Cartelisation’ – witnessed in India probably for the first time … The airlines have colluded to hike fares phenomenally and indulge in open loot of the passengers, under the very nose of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Center, “accused to prominent consumer rights activist Barrister Vinod Tiwari.
Tiwari is the President of Council for Protection of Rights of the NGO Grahak Bharti, Nagpur, which has red-flagged the alleged ‘unofficial syndicate’ involving most private airlines in India.
He contended that until February 10, the passenger airfares of all airlines in the country were in the reasonable range of Rs 1,500-Rs 3,500 per sector in three slabs.
If tickets were booked well in advance or at least 45 days before travel, the fares were very low, higher for 30 days slab, going up considerably as ‘normal fare’ for upfront bookings for less than 15 days travel dates.
For instance, the Mumbai-Nagpur fare was in the range of Rs 1,800-2,400-3,400, Nagpur-Delhi was Rs 2,400-Rs 3,400-Rs 4,500 in the three slabs, Mumbai-Delhi was Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000, and so on, for various sectors, depending on the travel dates.
“Now, past over two months, the scenario has changed and all airlines are charging fares – presumably under a single slab, which in many instances, is double the usual ‘normal fare’, and this unholy nexus has hit hard lakhs of holiday flyers on tight budgets in the country, “explained Tiwari.
Surprisingly, the ‘cartel’ suspicions stem from the soaring fares offered by various airlines – the rates charged are near-identical for most each sector, as seen on the major travel portals, where maximum bookings are known to take place.
For instance, a Mumbai-Delhi ticket on any airline for this week will cost around Rs 8,042, whether full-service or frills-free, Tiwari pointed out.
A cursory check of the tickets for entire May and mid-June reveals a similar trend for all airlines, whichever be the sector, leaving the poor flyers with no option but to prostrate and ‘pay the painful price’ for the post-pandemic sojourn.
Perturbed by this and complaints from various quarters, the Grahak Bharti has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia, drawing their attention to the purported ‘evil nexus’ of the airlines out to make hay while the summer sun shines.
“This is a big, serious issue, of open loot of air passengers due to the unusual ‘Cartelisation’ of airlines operators under the control of Ministry of Civil Aviation and therefore, an immediate intervention is needed to stop such unfair practices,” said the plea to Modi and Scindia.
Tiwari warned that unless the Center acts within 48 hours in the matter, the Grahak Bharti would move the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and take legal remedies if needed, and order the airlines to refund hundreds of crores of rupees they have jointly collected by fleecing the gullible flyers.
He rued that in the absence of a government-run airlines to ‘balance the scales’, these monopolistic practices by private carriers are contravening the BJP’s own aims of making air travel affordable to the middle-classes through various schemes like UDAAN, etc.
“Unfortunately for the BJP, the current milieu is contrary to its lofty proclamations … Air travel has again become a luxury within the reach of the suited-booted and rich, while the masses are once more sweating it out trains or buses,” slammed Tiwari.