Fliers grounded as airlines overbook

  • Soubhik Mitra
  • Updated: May 29, 2016 06:18 IST

MUMBAI: A day after his close friend’s nuptials was fixed, Mulund resident Nikesh Pradhan booked two round-trip flight tickets to Delhi — more than two months before the date of the trip. But last month, when he reached the Mumbai airport, the airline denied him the seats explaining that the flight was overbooked.

Although Pradhan received a full refund and note authorising him for compensation according to the government policy, the amount was short of the price for buying fresh tickets to his destination. “I got a refund of Rs 4,200 [per ticket] and the promised compensation of ` 4,000. But being a long weekend, the lowest spot fare available at that time was Rs 11,500,” said Pradhan, an accounts professional with an entertainment channel.

Like Pradhan, at least 1,149 domestic fliers across India faced a similar situation in April – which recorded the highest number of denied boarding cases owing to overbooked flights this year. Data from the civil aviation ministry also stated that the domestic airlines’ industry has paid Rs 40.74 lakh as compensation to these fliers.

While 10% to 15% overbooking is an accepted norm globally, the data indicated that airlines miscalculated the holiday rush that started last month. “It is all because of the airlines’ greed. Normally, airlines overbook flights anticipating a few last-minute cancellations, but April being a peak holiday season, no-shows were few, causing a surge in the number of passengers denied a seat despite having a confirmed ticket,” said Sudhakar Reddy, national president, Air Passengers’ Association of India (APAI).

A senior executive with an aviation think tank requesting anonymity said, “These days, most airlines use software programmes, which suggest selling more than the available number of seats in a flight based on an algorithm drawn from last-minute cancellations observed earlier. But sometimes, the estimates go haywire, particularly during peak travel season.” Frequent fliers said there is a need to revise the civil aviation compensation policy, keeping in mind the average one-way fare on metro routes.

“The policy grants a full refund of the fare apart from the compensation, depending on the travel time. But that seldom adds up to the spot fare, which travellers spend in cases of emergency,” said Bikram Ghosh, a frequent flier.

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