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Airfares send fliers back to trains

With airfares up by about 30 per cent since then, the retired government official has no choice. Today, a budget carrier ticket costs almost twice the second-class AC fare. Soubhik Mitra reports.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2009 01:27 IST
Soubhik Mitra

Paritosh Gupte bought a house within three years of getting a job. But he had to wait for almost three decades more to buy his first air ticket.

That was in December 2007, when, at the age of 63, Gupte flew to Jaipur by Go Air, spending just a few hundred rupees more than the railways’ second-class AC fare.

But with airfares up by about 30 per cent since then, the retired government official has no choice. Today, a budget carrier ticket costs almost twice the second-class AC fare. “The government’s Sixth Pay Commission has increased my pension, but air tickets still exceed my budget,” Gupta said.

The number of first-time fliers, like Gupte, has dropped by about 30 per cent in the last quarter of 2008 from a year earlier, according to estimates of the Federation of Indian Airlines, a body formed by scheduled carriers, and the Air Passenger Association of India, a body formed by fliers.

“These are people who had moved to air travel after the low-cost carrier revolution,” said Anil Baijal, the federation’s secretary general, “Today, airlines are coming up with discounts to woo this segment back.”

The railway budget promises to make this difficult. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has cut all train fares by two per cent.

That’s why Arup Ghatak, who runs a small factory in Bhiwandi, and needs to travel often to Ahmedabad on work, plans to stick to trains. A year ago, he had joined the ranks of first-time fliers. “Today, if I travel by air, it would eat into my profits,” he said.