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Fliers choose time over money

Frequent flier Dhruv Mehta is extremely careful when he buys an air ticket these days. The Andheri-based businessman talks to two or three travel agents about an airline’s recent punctuality record, reads up flier reviews online and follows news reports closely. “Earlier, I would simply pick the cheapest ticket available,” said Mehta.

mumbai Updated: Apr 28, 2011 01:16 IST
Soubhik Mitra

Frequent flier Dhruv Mehta is extremely careful when he buys an air ticket these days. The Andheri-based businessman talks to two or three travel agents about an airline’s recent punctuality record, reads up flier reviews online and follows news reports closely. “Earlier, I would simply pick the cheapest ticket available,” said Mehta.

Punctuality is becoming the priority for frequent fliers such as Mehta in a country that was predominantly driven by ticket prices, say travel experts. “Business fliers have become very particular about airlines operating on time because they want to mak e the most of every man hour,” said Rajesh Rateria, Managing Director, Cirrus Travels.

The switch in passengers’ preference is also reflecting in airlines’ effort to portray a good on-time record. The civil aviation ministry, earlier this month, found 70-odd Mumbai-bound flights that were reaching the city airport before their scheduled arrival time. On probing deeper, the aviation watchdog found that the flight time submitted by the airlines was more than the actual travel time required. “The purpose could be to show a 100% on-time performance (OTP),” said a senior civil aviation official requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Industry experts do not rule out the possibility. “There is no evidence to prove if airlines manipulate schedules to brush up OTP records, but the possibility cannot be ruled out,” said Ankur Bhatia, executive director, Bird Group. He, however, added that infrastructure glitches such as runway repairs are still the chief factor behind delays.

In March, only 68% of flights arrived in the city on schedule; 77% of the departures were on time, according the ministry’s flight punctuality review. The review found that closure of the main runway for eights hours daily was one of main reasons for delays.

Experts also said that awareness about avoiding errant flights came after the aviation regulator’s act of punishing delayed flights came into effect last July. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) passed a rule that sent a flight to the end of the departure queue if the pilot is not prepared for take-off 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. “Airlines’ and passengers’ outlooks began changing after the DGCA began its crackdown,” said Amber Dubey, director, aerospace and defence, KPMG. Now the ministry is also in the process of publishing names of airlines whose flights are delayed more than 20% of the time.

He added that the ministry’s landmark policy to compensate passengers against delays that followed the DGCA’s whip-cracking empowered passengers further against errant airlines. The rule came into effect last August and made it mandatory for airlines to pay cash compensation worth Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 against delays for more than an hour. Domestic airlines have paid more than Rs 2.82 crore (see box for details) against denied boardings, flight cancellations and delays from September to January, according to ministry data. “In addition to the compensation paid, the airline’s brand value also takes a beating,” said Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director (aviation), Deloitte, India.