No-frills, budget airlines seem to have lost their lure. Many domestic airlines have had shorter check-in queues and empty seats between January and March, traditionally the peak season for honeymooners.
The last three months have seen a dip in domestic bookings in comparison to the same period last year. The industry expects domestic travel to grow by 25 per cent in 2008 but the first quarter has seen a meagre 10 per cent rise.
Figures released by the civil aviation ministry two weeks ago say that top domestic carriers have lost fliers. Air India had 2.89 lakh less domestic passengers in the first quarter of 2008 as compared to the first quarter of 2007. Among budget carriers, Deccan had 2.38 lakh less fliers, Jetlite 14,000 and GoAir 20,000.
Travel experts blame the hidden taxes. “Fliers feel cheated due to misleading airfares,” said Ajay Prakash, national general secretary of Mumbai-based Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI). An air ticket priced at Rs 99 comes to Rs 2,150 after taxes.
The Railways have also become competitive. “The railway budget has been aggressive in drawing leisure travellers,” said Prakash.
Like Sambit Roy (38). An employee of a Mumbai-based telecom company, he started air travel after the onset of budget airlines. But last month his family of four cancelled one-way air tickets worth Rs 10,000. Instead, they hopped onto the air-conditioned Rajdhani and reached Delhi in 16 hours saving Rs 5,000.
Rising hotel rates may also be affecting traffic. Anup Kanuga, chairman (western region), Travel Agent Association of India (TAAI), said: “Hotel costs jumped 15 per cent in six months. A couple would rather fly to Singapore and stay at a hotel for Rs 800 a night.”