Devraj, a Mumbai barber, flew for the first time last Diwali, boarding an Air Deccan flight to his hometown, Bangalore, for just Rs 2,500.
This time around, he is back to the train as Air Deccan is no longer around.
The country’s first no-frills airline has merged with Kingfisher, which no longer offers fares that could tempt a traveller like Devraj (he only uses his first name) to switch from rail to air.
A sharp spike in fuel prices has forced airlines to nearly double minimum fares in the past year.
The flurry of budget airlines that began some three years ago was a boon for people like Devraj, who could earn more by saving time on travel. “A major portion of my income comes from tips. So, time is definitely money for me,” said the 51-year-old, who gets a monthly salary of Rs 8,000.
Last festive season, about 1.5 lakh people criss-crossed the skies — many of them for the first time. This year, the number is expected to drop by at least a third.
“We don’t have definite data, but as per our observation over 30 per cent of first-timers have given up air travel,” said Sudhakar Reddy, president of the Air Passenger Association of India.
This Diwali, Tanya Rastogi (25), a make-up artist in Pune, won’t join her parents in Lucknow. “I used to book my tickets weeks in advance to get good rates. But this time I can’t go home as I don’t have enough leave to take a train,” she said.
According to the Travel Agents Federation of India, tickets sales are down by 12 to 15 per cent.
(With inputs from Kamayani Singh in New Delhi)