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Short-haul air passengers fly to the railways

Indian travellers are reverting to the traditional rail and road transport for short haul trips. Lalatendu Mishra has the details.
Hindustan Times | By Lalatendu Mishra, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAY 25, 2008 10:41 PM IST

In these times of high inflation and fuel prices, Indian travellers are reverting to the traditional rail and road transport for short haul trips. Rising airfares are making this decision easier.

The choice is a no-brainer: most short-haul flights cost almost as much as a long one. In some cases, the short-hauls even cost more. And they exceed the deluxe rail-fares by several times.

For instance, a 40-minute Mumbai-Bhavnagar flight on Jet Airways would cost, including taxes and the fuel surcharge, around Rs 3,500, while the same airline charges Rs 4,800 for a Mumbai-Delhi ticket -- a 2-hour flight.

Similarly, the Delhi-Jammu fare on SpiceJet is around Rs 5,000, while the same airline charges Rs 4,000 for a Delhi-Mumbai ticket. An AC train ticket from Delhi to Jammu costs approximately Rs 800 -- not such a tough decision, in such tough times.

This migration is impacting budget airlines in a big way, as passengers who chose budget flights over trains for short distances have been the drivers of the aviation boom.

“Fares have become expensive on short-haul routes and large sections of passengers are shifting to trains, leading to a declining traffic on these routes,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO (India), Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). “These routes have contributed substantially to the growth of Indian aviation over the last three years. The industry cannot afford to lose these vital markets.”

Though there is enough scope for bargaining on long-haul routes, only limited offers are available on short-distance ones. Airlines are rapidly realising this and taking steps to retain passengers. Two months ago, some airlines started the practice of differential fuel surcharge, by which passengers flying long distance pay more than short-distance passengers.

Air Deccan, which pioneered cheap air travel in India, had fares starting from Rs 6 to lure passengers from the railways. Now, with dirt-cheap air tickets disappearing, its load factor across sectors has come down to 66 per cent.

A Jet Airways executive said budget fare passengers had gone out of both the short- and long-haul sectors.

“This is a general industry phenomenon and it is applicable to us as well,” said Nalin Gagrani, head of marketing, Air Deccan. “The section of passengers who were flying for less than Rs 2,000 has gone off due to the rise in fares. They are no longer frequent flyers.”

Airlines are looking for business travellers, he added. “We are concentrating more on small and medium enterprises and business flyers who are willing to pay a little more.”

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