Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cost of flights in India. Fair fares?

Rich, spoilt, pampered, privileged, arrogant, too big for his boots, show off, are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe me. No I am not taking offence to any of them, not in this post anyway.

I had to travel to Haryana, Gurgaon actually, a few days ago to attend a series of meetings. In the interest of transparency, the client bought and paid for my air ticket. I was flying business class return on Jet Airways from Mumbai to Delhi. Since my meetings were to start in the afternoon, my tickets were booked on a reasonably late flight, departing 0945. In other words it was not a flight most people flying to Delhi for a day of work would take. Of course I do not quite know what the preceding sentence “a person flying on work to Delhi” means, I too was flying on work. But I am sure you get what I mean. I looked at my tickets and found to my considerable shock and horror, that the fare was a staggering Rs. 65,000 that is approximately USD 1200 or GBP 780. I was so surprised to see the price that I logged onto the Jet Airways site and discovered that this was not the highest fare. The highest fare for a Mumbai Delhi return in Business Class could go as high as Rs. 90,000 that is USD 1,666 or GBP 1,080. You are free to check this out yourself, be my guest and log onto Has this jolted you out of your Biryani induced slumber?

Let us put this in some sort of perspective.

Before we do that, here is a fact that you need to know to appreciate why I am so shocked. A Mumbai Delhi flight is approximately 1 hour 50 minutes. Let us round that of to two hours. So a round trip would be about 4 hours. Clear? By way of background, Jet Airways along with Air India [which no one in his right mind should fly] is India’s only full service, full fare airline with a genuine Business Class section. No other airline has this. Go Air has a Business Class section but the seats are exactly the same with the centre seat being blocked off. So, to be fair to Jet Airways, they do have a clearly differentiated luxury product to offer. With the demise of Kingfisher Airlines, Jet Airways also has something much more important than a luxury offering. It has a monopoly on business travel within India. It can price its business class seats at any price point and we the punters have no choice but to shell out the dosh. For many high flying lawyers, industry captains, advertising gurus and polititians, travelling cattle class is just not an option. So Jet rakes in the moolah

To put the costs in perspective, Emirates Business class is vastly superior to Jet Airways. The lounges are far better with better food and alcohol being offered free. You get an Emirates car to transfer you from home to airport and from your destination airport to destination hotel free of cost. I clarify, `free’ only means you do not have to pay extra. The seat on the Emirates aircraft is a full flat bed, which simply means that your seat occupies far more square foot area than a reclining seat on Jet Airways. You get better food and free booze on board along with a truly world class entertainment system. A return flight from Mumbai to Dubai would be about 6 hours flying time. How much do you pay? Anywhere between Rs 55,000 and Rs. 60,000! And I know people who consider this very expensive. Why? Because there is competition on this sector! In fact, a Jet Airways Business class ticket on this sector is as low as Rs 54,000. Cheaper by far than the lowest Mumbai Delhi return on offer.

Now take this example a bit further. Take Bombay London return fare on either Emirates or British Airways. This would involve a flying time of 18 to 20 hours. Yes you get all the perks of flying Business Class, the cars [not on BA] the food, the booze, the lounges the onboard entertainment and whatever else. How much do you pay? Answer is anywhere between Rs. 135,000 [USD 2,400 GBP 1,620] to Rs. 160,000 [USD 2,960 GBP 1,915].

Do you realize how expensive Indian airfare is? This is a reality not some exception that is being made into an example. All what I have written is available on the respective airline websites. Yes, you can be a bit reasonable and book a seat say 14 days in advance which is when my seat was booked. I understand that last minute bookings cost a lot but that was not what happened in my case.

I am sure a lot of you will say two things. The first is to mutter exactly what I wrote in my opening sentence and the second is to say that you don’t travel Business Class in any event, so all that I have ranted about here is moot. The point is not whether you fly Business Class or not, the point is that travel in India is not cheap, in fact it’s more expensive and secondly and more importantly, this is a prime example of a monopoly at work.

We need competition. 

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