Rinjing Paljor, 27, had been looking forward to visiting his hometown in Leh during the summer. A graphic designer working in Delhi, he had been planning this visit since January in order to spend some quality time with his family in the cool climes of Ladakh’s barren mountains.
Sadly, Paljor has been forced to cancel the trip. With airfares heading north because of the troubles faced by a number of airlines in the past few weeks, flying has suddenly become a luxury which many like Paljor can ill afford.
“Fares on the Delhi-Leh route are generally around Rs 4,000 for a one-way ticket. But this time fares have not gone below the Rs 10,000 mark. Since there is no other quick and convenient mode of transportation for the route, I decided to stay put in Delhi,” Paljor said.
Paljor is not alone in bearing the brunt of the woes plaguing the airline sector. Nishant Mishra, 22, a student at Delhi University, said he came to know only a day in advance that his flight to Lucknow had been cancelled.
“I had booked the ticket when the fares were Rs 2,000 but now it’s gone over Rs 4,000. I tried to book a railway ticket also but there were no seats available. As a last resort, I took a bus to reach Lucknow,” Mishra said.
The Indian travel and aviation sectors are going through a rough patch, putting paid to travel plans in the summer and the just-ended Holi weekend.
While IndiGo is facing a pilot shortage and is cancelling flights at random, Jet Airways is deeply in the red and has grounded two-thirds of its aircraft fleet.
SpiceJet, another aviation major in India, has had to reschedule many flights after the airline was forced to ground 12 of its Boeing 737 Max planes in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The social media is full of complaints about airlines taking them for a ride. The complaints range from not being informed about flight cancellations in advance to difficulty in getting a refund for tickets and poorly manned airline helplines.
“Flyers have been facing the brunt of rocketing airfares for some time now and the problems are only compounding. The fares have been on the rise as the demand is much more than the supply,” said Nishant Pitti, co-founder and CEO, EaseMyTrip.
The operation head of a major travel portal said the rise in airfare was more acute between major cities and it could go up by 10-20 per cent as the summer holiday season approaches.
“Spot airfare on key routes such as Delhi-Mumbai and Mumbai-Bengaluru has gone up by 15-30 per cent, and routes such as Mumbai-Kolkata and Delhi-Kochi have seen a hike of over 50 per cent,” the travel portal executive said, adding that the current turmoil in the industry would take some time to ease.
The spike in airfares is happening despite efforts by the government and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to try and control them. But experts said tickets are priced on the basis of market dynamics in which the government rarely has any control.
The absence of an efficient alternative to airlines has added to the discomfort of travellers. The railways, the only other option to airways, continue to face perennial problems such as booking a confirmed seat and slow speed.
“The railways are too slow. Even the best, the Rajdhani Express, takes over 20 hours to complete a Delhi-Bhubaneswar journey. Travelling by rail means spending a large part of my holiday inside the train,” said Jyoti Patra, 35, a mathematics tutor at a private coaching centre.
Beside this, passengers also complained of flexi fares and the premium tatkal scheme that has made travelling by train much more expensive than by air.