“Air tickets for Rs 599: click here”, says an Internet travel portal. If you are looking for a good deal on air tickets, your hopes sure are raised. You click and it opens a page with the heading "Cheap air tickets : starting fares at Rs 599 and less" and then in brackets, it says (taxes extra). Below it is a list of air fares to different destinations, costing just Rs 500. You are overjoyed. You decide to take that and continue with the booking . As you proceed, you get a shock — the fare has suddenly gone up from Rs 500 to Rs 3975! This time the words in the bracket says (includes taxes and fees)! What is this fine print?
Take another site: you are trying to find the lowest fare to travel from, say Delhi to Bangalore. The results of your search indicates air fares from Rs 1,450 onwards. You choose a flight that costs "Rs 1500 plus taxes" You have no idea what the tax component is. As you proceed with your booking, you get to know that Rs 1,500 is the basic fare and on that, taxes and fees cost another Rs 3,445 and the final fare will be Rs 4,945!
Now, why can't airlines and portals be more honest and transparent and indicate the actual fare clearly at the beginning? Why should they mislead consumers into paying eight times more than what they first see? Or for that matter, quote Rs 1,500, when the actual ticket costs over three times more? Considering that the most crucial factor in the deal is the price, it is patently unfair to conceal the actual fare or reveal only part of the price. In fact airfares should be absolutely transparent and give the consumers, a full break-up of the various components of the price..
Last March, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told the Lok Sabha that the air fare charged by private scheduled domestic airlines comprised basic fare, fuel surcharge, congestion surcharge, passenger service fee and transaction fee (if the ticket is booked through any point of purchase other than the Website). Out of these, only passenger service fee is the component collected by the airlines on behalf of the airport operators, he said. Yet, Websites give no such indication and nor do they break up the levies.
This kind of misrepresentation or opacity vis-a-vis air fares is prevalent worldwide. Last September, 15 Member States of the European Commission conducted a market surveillance or an internet sweep on 386 air ticket selling Websites including portals of airlines, travel agents /tour operators and sites providing comparison of air fares. The result showed a lack of transparency in the presentation of price information pertaining to air tickets. The most widespread practice was to lure consumers to expensive tickets after promising cheap fares.
The new European Union rules mandate that all advertising and information on air fares (including on websites) specify the basic air fare, taxes, airport charges and other charges, surcharges or fees such as those related to security or fuel and also optional charges. These must be communicated upfront in a transparent and unambiguous manner at the start of any booking process.
It's time our civil aviation authority got active on this issue and brought in transparency and accountability in air fares.