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Air passenger charter a cosmetic courtesy that lets airlines off easy, offers customers cold comfort

At first flight, the offerings of the passenger charter offers a fresh wind beneath the wings of Indian aviation. My goodness, the government cares. But come a little closer and it is open to a not so buoyant scrutiny.

Representational image. AFP.

Representational image. AFP.

Before we get into the time window, what must be addressed is the fact that the non-refundable tickets are also the cheapest. Airlines can happily navigate this order by upping the rates, which they all do arbitrarily anyway under the canopy of yield whether it is seasonal, festive-oriented or natural tragedy. So the passenger will be the loser.

On that canvas, the deal to only give this concession to those who cancel inside 24 hours of booking a seat and have bought that ticket within 96 hours of estimated time of departure makes for cold comfort.

The airlines must be heaving a collective sigh of relief at this cosmetic courtesy because very few people book so late in the day and if they do succeed in ticking that four-day box, they are mostly the more affluent executives travelling on corporate work or business.

The large majority who book for families go as far back as 320 days with a mean time of 90 days before departure. According to an article in Forbes, 70 days is a good time for a deal while aviation website Cheapair puts it at 54 days.

There was a time not so long ago when booking closer to the flight got you the cheapest ticket and you could get red-eye flight and standby tickets. Those concepts are now fossilised. Then again, a very small number cancel within 24 hours and are more likely to make a change closer to a flight because of an emergency, good or bad or a change in plan necessitated by some unexpected development.

If the new command allows for the final 72 hours run-up to take off to be a no go, what’s the point of this break? Nobody wishes to cancel deliberately and no one can control or second guess negative situations. Consequently, after the initial excitement you notice that there isn’t much to cheer about in this announcement which is still open to ratification by the public.

And even if we see in it some brilliance, who is going to do the sums and the paperwork and the difficulty which the airlines will place in your way, especially if you buy online? By the time they have given you the runaround while paying lip service to the ministry, you will give up. I am still waiting for one low-cost carrier to return my money and it has been over a year since they called me with great graciousness and assured me the payment was being processed with alacrity.

In a system of ticket purchase where 300 passengers on an airline going from A to point B could all have paid different prices and hidden costs and tricks (better seats, early check-in, online fast forward, last on first off and all that claptrap) there are thousands of passengers who can woefully relate their experiences to the contrary.

Let’s take the Rs 500 you spent first for first off baggage or you arrived safely late because you had checked in online. You bags at arrival belie the promise and there is no online queue. Who will you complain to when the airline’s airport rep has done a Houdini and vanished?

You will just be happy you got your bags. So much as one would like to enthuse in this game, the airlines still hold all the good cards.


Updated Date: May 22, 2018 22:29 PM

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