Would you take a domestic flight at 2 am in the morning? Well, believe it or not, there are people who are taking flights at such unearthly hours. And, these are not just people taking a connecting flight to their hometowns after landing in Delhi or Mumbai through an international flight.
SpiceJet operates couple of night flights, Delhi–Hyderabad-Bangalore and Delhi-Ahmedabad-Pune, which have been received well by travellers — SpiceJet claims that the flights are occupied close to 80 per cent (considered good as average occupancies for day-time flights are 70-75 per cent; SpiceJet does 85 per cent).
Encouraged by the response, SpiceJet is increasing the frequency of the Delhi-Ahmedabad-Pune flight from thrice a week to five times a week, and will make it a daily flight from March when it has more aircraft. It has already increased the frequency of the Delhi-Hyderabad-Bangalore flight from thrice-a-week to daily.
Next, it plans to launch a night flight on Ahmedabad-Jaipur-Kolkata from March. What is attracting people to night flights is the 10-15 per cent difference in fare. "You can work all day, get into a midnight flight and you don’t have to waste time to catch the next morning’s flight. You also save on hotel costs," said SpiceJet’s vice-president for sales and planning Sanjay Kumar.
Consider the difference: a Bangalore-Delhi SpiceJet night flight via Hyderabad on, say, January 30, will cost you Rs 3,024, inclusive of taxes and other charges. An evening flight by the same airline will cost you Rs 3,924 while a journey by a full-service airline like Kingfisher could set you back by Rs 5000-7,000.
What’s interesting, the people flying these night flights are the same who take flights during the day: first-time fliers (people going on vacation or visiting friends or relatives), students, small businessmen and sometimes even executives of large companies. "As long as we are able to recover our costs and make some money, these flights make sense for us," adds SpiceJet’s Sanjay Kumar.
We are not talking of night flights which leave at 10.30 pm — there are many flights on Friday which depart at 10.30 pm — but flights which depart at midnight or later. For instance, SpiceJet’s Bangalore-Delhi night flight departs at 2.45 am, and reaches Delhi at 6.15 am via Hyderabad (departure: 4.15 am).
In aviation parlance, these are called red-eye flights, which depart early in the morning, between 1:00 and 4:00 am. The term "red-eye" derives from the fatigue symptom of having red eyes. "If the price is right and flight is on time, people really don’t mind the time," said an industry expert, adding that Indians are used to catching long-distance trains in small towns at 3 am or 4 am.
Even full-service carriers like Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines operate night flights but most of them are aimed at catering to the inbound traffic coming in international flights. Kingfisher recently introduced night flights to Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chennai to carry Delta’s passengers arriving by the New York-Mumbai flight to other cities. Jet has a night flight to Bangalore from Mumbai, which leaves at 3 am and arrives in Bangalore at 5.20.
But if airlines fly their planes at night also, when will they carry out maintenance checks? Typically, planes go through service checks at nights, which take two to four hours. SpiceJet says it doesn’t face this problem as most of its planes are brand new and it can squeeze in couple of hours for service checks before the planes take-off on their night flights.
It wouldn’t be surprising if others start night flights.