Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju is examining a proposal to reserve a few seats in every flight to protect last minute flyers travelling on account of emergencies from unrealistically high air fares.
Raju said, “This model exists in some countries where 1-2 seats are reserved for passengers flying due to medical emergencies. We can frame guidelines to ascertain who all are eligible for such seats. We can mandate that no airline deny these seats to last minute flyers who are forced to travel because of emergencies.”
To check misuse and prevent controversies, the minister said these seats would be kept for utilisation for passengers outside of the aviation industry. “It has to be used outside of aviation because otherwise it may lead to scandals. We are examining practices which are followed in other countries to determine what is the best way of implementing this”, Raju said.
The model being evaluated by the ministry can address problems on account of excessively high air fares faced by last minute flyers travelling due to emergencies without ticket pricing being capped or regulated, which would go against principles of a free market economy.
Most airlines, particularly no-frills carriers, currently design discount schemes to lure in the holiday flyers and shoot up last minute fares to manage yields. The head of one of Asia’s leading low-cost carriers has said, “The customer who is going to the funeral is our best customer, he has to go. Our aim is to bring in those passengers who are undecided about flying.”
The “dynamic pricing policy” practiced by airlines has meant that air fares for last minute travel often touch unrealistic peaks. A senior official in the ministry of civil aviation said, “The last minute fare for one-way travel from Aizwal to Delhi was Rs 64,000. We have received complaints from over 100 MPs cutting across party lines that some kind of regulation be put in place to keep in check last minute fares.”
Ministry of civil aviation had briefly toyed with the idea of capping economy class fares at Rs 20,000. However, the proposal was shelved as it was against principles of free market economy prevalent globally. “Capping fares and floor rates for tickets would have their own implications. In places like Srinagar, for example, the economy survives on tourism. Tourists book their tickets in advance for cheap. Capping air fares at Rs 20,000 would have impacted them”, the official added.
The civil aviation ministry, therefore, decided against capping air fares but to ensure transparency directed all airlines to submit data about the proportion of seats sold in each fare bucket to the aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The data collected would be analysed for any “noticeable” trend resulting in last minute peaking of fares and can lead to consequent action.
MoS for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma, too, has said that the government would look to regulate “predatory” air fares rather than having a total control over pricing.
“We understand that the predatory price (of air fares) at lower end or higher end should have some regulation. This is my individual opinion but this is subject to discussion and a Cabinet decision has to be taken on this issue …. In principle, I feel that there should be some regulation on the prices at both ends. Of course, we will not totally regulate prices but some regulation has to be there,” Sharma has said.
5/20 rule: Raju seeks ex-ministers’ advice
New Delhi: Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju has written to former aviation ministers in the NDA regime to seek their views on the policy proposed to replace the ‘5/20 rule’ which regulates Indian airlines desiring to commence international operations.
Raju told The Indian Express, “The 5/20 rule regulating India carriers to fly abroad does not exist anywhere in the world. On the other hand, there are so many unutilised seats under our bilateral air services agreements with other countries. We have now written to former aviation ministers who have experience to share their ideas on it.”