The central government’s decision to ban first-class air travel by top bureaucrats as part of its austerity drive will hit national carrier Air India (AI), as government traffic contributes a substantial chunk to its revenues, feel senior airline executives.
Moreover, many bureaucrats use political influence to upgrade their seats to first class, which practice could also now come to an end.
“The occupancy in the first class is as it is quite low... at 20-25% and this move will affect us further,” said a senior AI official.
AI, which offers first class seats only on its long-haul flights to the US, is also having a rethink on whether to retain the first class at all on its Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft after having opted for a two-class configuration on all other international routes.
“We need to take a call on whether we need it or not as many of the airlines recently have been adopting the two-class configuration. This was the reason why we decided for a two-class configuration for the Dreamliner,” said an AI spokesperson.
“The decision has to be taken by the Board. Commercially, we market the first class. With AI joining Star Alliance, a lot of redemptions may take place and passengers may prefer to travel first class. We need to watch over the next six to eight months on how the improvement in load factors take place in the first class and then take a decision,” another AI official said.
However, AI has a huge advantage over others. “AI is the only Indian airline offering first class on a non-stop flight from India to the US and that’s a big advantage. Dropping first class seats would mean losing this traffic,” said Subhash Goyal, chairman, STIC Travel Group.