Fliers shun the skies, take trains

As a section of price sensitive domestic fliers have begun  travelling by train, the number of passengers have gone down this year, say experts.

In May last year, despite making 20 calls to book a last-minute ticket from Mumbai to Lucknow,  a Colaba-based travel agent was unable to find a seat even when his client was willing to pay an exorbitant price. 

But last week, after a flier approached him for a last-minute ticket, the agent was able to offer 3 flight options at a better price. “The easy availability of last minute tickets in the middle of the peak holiday season indicates that many domestic flights could be going empty,” said the travel operator requesting anonymity.

The observation also reflects in the civil aviation ministry’s data on domestic air traffic this year. Between January and April, domestic carriers carried 202.89 lakh passengers down from 203.6 lakh during the same period last year. This is the second consecutive year when passengers’ volumes has dipped after robust growth up to 2011.

Although the dip appears marginal, experts said that the data spells concern owing to factors that were expected to whip up demand. The grounding of the Kingfisher Airlines last October reduced the supply of domestic seats by one fifth (the airline catered to 20% domestic fliers). And, all domestic carriers gave away discounted tickets (at least 30 lakh tickets in the three-month period this year).

“Ideally one expected travel to soar but airfares did not subside since Kingfisher stopped operations last year,” said Anup Kanuga, owner of Bathija Travels.

While business travellers were moderately impacted, worst hit were middle-class travellers, added experts. “A section of price-sensitive middle-class travellers have indeed made the switch to 3rd or 2nd class AC train travel. But the larger concern has been reasonably high fares for even people booking well in advance,” said Aloke Bajpai, chief executive officer and co-founder of travel portal Ixigo.com.

He added that while spot domestic fares in India are at par with matured aviation markets, fares available for advance buyers are higher than abroad. For instance, a London-Nice ticket booked three months in advance is around 36 pounds (approximately Rs 3,029) whereas a Mumbai-Delhi (roughly the same distance) ticket bought in the same window period is at least Rs 4,000.


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