IndiGo, GoAir cancellations: Hiking airfares at times of adversity is exploitation; govt must regulate prices

It is not enough to placidly accept the premise that because the DGCA has stood down the Pratt and Whitney powered A320 Neos in IndiGo and GoAir it is solid grounds for other carriers to up the ante on tickets.

Go on say it, the hike is unethical. There you feel better already.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Price gouging is an unfair aviation practice and one that is justified as a legitimate business practice because who the hell cares about the end-user...he will pay inflated figures because he has no choice in this accepted blackmail by the industry. Just pretty up the wordage and use the airline-speak buzzwords to obfuscate the issue.

The euphemism that it is a matter of supply and demand is not valid. What happens is that because there are lesser flights on a specific route there are even fewer seats available so there are obviously more contenders like there would be in a game of musical chairs.

Since the diminished capacity logically enhances the break-even point for a flight, the decision to increase the fare is really an act of blatant cheating. It is not that they are losing, it is just that they are being exploitative.

Have no doubts that if Indian MPs were not getting 34 odd tickets per person per year courtesy the taxpayer, we would have seen a legislation by now capping these deliberate spikes. Even their latest promise to hold down prices is a populist knee-jerk reaction.

There is a difference between business practices and creating a constant flux in the pricing on the one side and blatant manipulation on the other.

In season, we expect a markup. Passengers are not stupid. But when it is out of season and predicated on a negative or an act of force majeure then it becomes hugely questionable.

When the nexus between the adverse event and the price hike is obvious, airlines cannot seek refuge in it being a seller’s market.

Airline ticketing is a mess. We can have 300 people on a plane each having paid a different price for the same route. Even IATA as a clearinghouse has thrown up its arms in despair. Because of this wide window, the grime of gouging continues unabated.

This is March and is not the season for travel. Any adversity immediately becomes a convenient excuse to increase fares arbitrarily and the devil take the hind leg. Since there is no real policing by any official body in the country (the efforts of the Competition Commission of India notwithstanding) airlines can go unilateral on the pricing even though invariably they collectively conspire to ensure all of them are party to the sweet deal. Truth be told, they do not have to listen to the government and are happy to pretend they are concerned.

Travellers, by nature, are benign and absorb the fiscal shock without much complaint. Once in a way, they object, for eg, US passengers putting carriers on the backfoot by protesting as they did when flights into areas hit by Hurricane Irma and Katrina were hiked up by as much as 200 percent.

Is there any guilt or remorse over this robbery? Not at all because by convention and through clever advertising the imagery of a caring system of transportation blinds everyone including the regulators to the cruel travesty of gouging.

In India, people pretend not to behave so callously. Whether there's tension in Chandigarh, floods in Chennai, or tripling fares during the school vacation and festive season, the sheeps who fly don’t even say baa.

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Updated Date: Mar 17, 2018 14:47:48 IST

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