To protest against unregulated fares, hidden charges and refusal of commission by airlines, travel agents across the country will shut shop on Tuesday.
The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), a body comprising 2,600 travel operators, on Monday, asked its members to voluntarily strike for a day. “If the government fails to act on our demands, we might continue the protest indefinitely,” said Iqbal Mulla, president, TAAI.
Other groups such as the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) and the IATA agents association, too, have pledged their support to the agitation.
Although a significant section of frequent fliers use airline websites and travel portals to book tickets, industry estimates show that 80% of air tickets in India are sold through travel agents.
Travel operators alleged that domestic airlines hike airfares during long weekends, festivals seasons and holidays. “Most travellers in India book their tickets at the last minute. Airlines misuse the demand situation. There have been cases when passengers have paid Rs50,000 for a flight from Mumbai to Delhi last Diwali,” said Jay Bhatia, western region chairman, TAAI.
Agents are also opposing the government’s recent policy, which permits airlines to charge separately for services such as check-in baggage, airport lounges and on-board meals. “Airlines will mislead passengers by showing low base fares and overcharge them under the guise of multiple services,” said Mullah. “Air travel and tourism would grow only if airlines charge affordable consolidated fares.”
Industry insiders, however, said that it was natural for travel agents to oppose the policy because airlines pay them commission on base fares.
Dwindling commission margins was another issue raised by agents. The 9% commission on base fares was scrapped by foreign airlines in 2008. Currently, only full-service carriers such as Air India and Jet Airways pay agents 1% remuneration.