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Hidden costs in flight ticket cancellations should be regulated

ht view Updated: Jun 28, 2015 09:45 IST

When you are booking an air ticket online, the website gives you a list of options and picks up the cheapest ticket for you as the default option. If that does not suit you, you make your own selection. However, sometimes due to some glitch, the web page may not save your selection and revert to the default option and if you have not noticed it, you may well end up buying the wrong ticket.

That’s exactly what happened with SK Namrata when she bought tickets for herself and her mother to travel from Bengaluru to Delhi. She had opted for an afternoon flight, but when she completed the transaction, she found that she had tickets for the early morning flight, which had been the default option. She immediately called up the airline and asked them to change it to the afternoon flight. They did, but charged Rs 1,600 per ticket for making the change!

Prasad had an equally unpleasant experience. Two days after he bought tickets to travel from Delhi to Bengaluru, he had to move the date of journey by a day. Even though the travel date was 10 days away, he had to pay Rs 1,800 for making the change.

However, since the airline had announced some offers by then and the air fare for the journey that he was seeking was much lower than what he had paid earlier, he hoped that he would gain there. But no, he was told that if the fare for the changed ticket was higher, he had to pay the difference, but if it was lower, he would not get any money back!

When he demanded an explanation, he was told that the airline did not permit change from a higher class or category to a lower one, even within the economy class. However, there was no bar against moving form a lower to a higher class!

I quote these examples to show how airlines are imposing unreasonable and exorbitant charges for changing the date or time of journey. While some charge anywhere between Rs 1,000 to a whopping Rs 3,200, depending on the class’ fare (class I may attract a lower ‘change’ fee than class W), some charge Rs 1,250 to Rs 2,500, depending on the date of cancellation.

But what’s worse is that these levies are applicable per sector and if your travel covers two sectors, then you will have to pay double the amount. And then of course, in addition to this, you pay the higher fare applicable for the new ticket. This is sheer exploitation.

Airlines argue that while fixing the ‘ticket change’ charges, they take into consideration the risk of potential revenue loss on account of such re-scheduling. But that argument holds true only if the cancellation is done at the last minute, and the airline is unable to fill the seat vacated due to re-scheduling of the ticket. What about changes made well in advance? In fact in such cases, the airline is more likely to gain by selling it at a much higher price.

Besides, how do airlines explain the levy of Rs 3,200 (for two tickets) imposed on Namrata, for changing her ticket within minutes of buying it? What loss does the airline suffer there? The only cost to the airline would be the cost of making the necessary changes in their passenger information.

It’s time the aviation regulator puts a stop to such exploitative practices, and came up with a more reasonable, fair and logical formula for airlines to follow. This formula should reflect the true cost associated with changing the tickets.

It should also become mandatory for websites and call centres to inform consumers at the time of buying tickets about the charges for making any changes to their booking.

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)