Parliamentary panel raps carriers: Airlines will continue to fleece passengers unless flyers boycott them

It is all very well for a parliamentary committee to indict India’s private airlines for arbitrary practices but it is the government itself that gave the okay for deregulation in the aviation sector. It began this process in 1986 and by 1994 the cluster of private carriers had grown exponentially and was carrying nine times the passenger load into the new ‘open skies’ era.

Expensive flying. Reuters

Expensive flying. Reuters

With the changing rules, dynamic pricing or what the industry calls flexible pricing or cleverly, surge strategy, came to stay. Shorn of its verbal finery it is just plain price gouging. Spikes as high as 400 percent in festive periods or school holidays or even acts of force majeure (in August fares to Chandigarh and Amritsar rose dramatically because of the Dera violence as did the fares to Mumbai because of Ganesh Chaturthi and the North East because of floods.) The DGCA had to step in on two occasions to order the airlines to back off. Time-based pricing is an accepted practice.

That airlines have no sense of decency and would even exploit a calamity has been known for years so floods, quakes, riots, ash clouds, drought, war, these are often good news for airline bean counters.

The Indian MPs sound good to the public like they care but the airlines are not duty bound to listen and would only do so by way of insincere promise to stay in the good books of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. A month after Minister of State Mahesh Sharma had announced that fares would soon be capped his boss, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Ganapathi Raju has backed off any such move. Even in the ministry, they’re not on the same page.

He was quoted as saying that competition between airlines would take care of this issue. In a perfect world maybe but the cartel element in aviation springs into action and all airlines follow suit spurred as they are by yield, come hail, storm celebration or adversity. No airline has stood its ground and said the passenger comes first. Nor will they.

Herein lies the irony. The minister believes that some carrier with its heart in the right place will snub the others and earn goodwill by keeping its fares at a lower level. It does not happen, not even with the government-owned Air India which has been known to spurt upwards during the Diwali, Christmas-New Year phase. Consequently, it is only a piece of tinsel thought and has no basis in reality. It is as impractical as expecting passengers not to fly because they are being fleeced. Boycotts are not feasible even though the US has seen some such groundswells of such action during the Hurricane Irma days when carriers upped the cost of tickets.

The minister then goes on to say that such a command would jeopardise the regional transportation network which is clearly close to the government’s heart with 32 airports derelict and non-functional at present. There is no connection between opportunistic greed disguised as a legitimate market practice and adopting new routes. Fly the right aircraft on the right routes with a studied schedule and connectivity will zip across the length and breadth of the country.

The excuse is threadbare and city and town pairings that suit political agendas are never really going to fly with a carrier. A token agreement to absorb a certain route may be undertaken because that state or the Centre will offer some counter sop to that airline, some major compensatory concession to keep its bottom line in the black.

Airlines are a business and they will run to make a profit. The only way to keep them from going berserk with their price surges is to boycott them as passengers and sit out their venal periods. Highly impractical but there is no other way once you have deregulated the skies. The government, to be honest, has no say in the matter and this seasonal piracy will not disappear because a committee has made mewling sounds.

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Updated Date: Jan 06, 2018 15:55:34 IST

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