When the going gets tough, airlines get stingy!

“It’s the economy stupid,” said an airline executive I know. While innovative ways to price various services is the global airline model these days, there are days it gets too much and some of these are ahead of us!

Airlines are in dire straits in India but that is something we all know. No one is helping them stay afloat is also well-known. The recent service tax on flying adds to the government’s coffers, while the zooming airport charges are bringing on more fees on the passengers to keep the airport operators happy. After all, airlines are left with no choice but to operate from various airports so they have a monopoly in their respective markets.

However, with plummeting profits the airlines are getting ready to nickel and dime for each and every service they offer, and if you really want to save some money, you should keep an eye for these charges and avoid them!

First of all, let’s pick the biggest airline in the Indian market. Jet Airways and JetKonnect have recently put out a slew of new charges which have left their passengers unhappy. Their first moves were on their frequent flyers, who also held their co-branded credit cards with Citibank. One fine day in September 2011, Jet Airways/Citibank almost doubled the bar on spending which would get them one free upgrade coupon from the airline. Next, they imposed a Rs150 transaction charge per ticket, per passenger, per transaction to issue fresh tickets/ change tickets /refund tickets at a Jet Airways/JetKonnect ticketing office. And yes, even if you called them on their helpline, you are liable for this charge. I’ve used some bit of airline ticketing systems as a hobbyist, but I can’t imagine the workload would be so much as to have an airline make me pay for the salaries of their employees. Cancellation fees on tickets have gone up from Rs750 per segment to Rs950, and they’ve started charging for all sorts of requests such as “Travel Certificates”.

Next up, from 1st January 2012, they withdrew lounge access at 11 airports in India for their frequent flyers. In March 2012, when they claimed they were offering higher mileage on their frequent flyer program to all domestic segments, they credited about 20% less. The blame went straight away to a “system glitch” which has not been rectified yet. The problem here is that miles have a financial value on the liabilities side of an airline’s balance sheet, and they are taking less of it than they are responsible for.

The latest move has, however, left me wondering. Airports in India have a regressive requirement of the security forces sighting proof of travel before letting the passengers access the airport. The IATA, the governing body of air ticketing regulations globally, banished paper tickets since 2008. Therefore, you needed a printout of your e-ticket or boarding pass to access the airport. Not to mean this serves the purpose since anybody can create an e-ticket with a computer and printer at their homes and still access the airport. Jet Airways has now imposed a new Rs50 charge to give you a printout of your ticket at their offices (airport or city). Their clarification reads that this is extra work for their staff and hence passengers who need a new printout should pay for it.

Conceptually not a bad thought, but it leaves a lot of people high and dry for they would ideally like to access the airport with their tickets in their e-mail or smart phones, but airport operators and airlines are now trying to monetise this requirement.

And Jet Airways is not the only one at fault here. Kingfisher Airlines, running a very truncated schedule, has resorted to charging an excess baggage charge from everyone who is even slightly deviant of their published baggage guidelines. All the low-cost carriers already charge Rs50-Rs150 “per transaction”, but it has always been a part of their model from day one, so no one can fault them on those.

IndiGo, which is a professionally- run operation, has also resorted to some of these tactics as well. However, most of these don’t impact all of us at all times. Wheelchair assistance services for passengers who needed one used to be free at a point of time, and now have been made chargeable by them. For the record, other airlines, even low-cost ones such as GoAir and SpiceJet don’t charge for this service till date.

So, if we are missing Air India in this list, do take note, they are anyways surviving on the money we pay as tax-payers, it is simply great that they don’t charge all these ancillary fees. And after writing this for you, my only advise to you to have a reasonably-costed flight on your travels is: Be healthy, book early, don’t change your plans, pack light, travel with your ticket print-out and buy your own food before you get on the plane. Else, get ready to pay for every step of the way as you fly to your destination.

AJ writes a travel and aviation focussed blog from India at www.livefromalounge.com. You can follow him at @livefromalounge on Twitter.

1 decade ago
While there is no denying that airlines must also be making money and be profitable, they are definitely responsible to large extent for their recurring and ever growing losses. The business models followed by airlines, full service or low fare airlines, are questionable. They have consistently sacrificed profitability to increase market share not realizing that quoting lower than cost prices will not help them in increasing ever lasting loyalty of flyers. Flyers will always be looking for value. The attractiveness of the co branded cards have been reduced to a large extent by the airlines and the banks to manage their costs better. Flyers have realized that holding these cards no longer means any significant benefits will come their way.
Airlines are also guilty of cozying up with the government of the day for their sustenance. They should instead be in constant discussions with the various state governments as well as central government to stop treating aviation as LUXURY and remove the high taxation on fuel and other operations. Increased aviation activity is good for the local economy and the nation. A profitable aviation industry can can give rich dividends to an economy as proven by the rise of Emirates airlines and the positive effects it has had on Dubai.
At the same time, airlines must not fall in the trap of thinking that the Indian regulators or customers might not be as evolved to accept Euro style pricing.

Recent actions of airlines like Jet and Air India have alienated their distributors and commercial partners. There has been unbridled and misplaced arrogance on display while dealing with suppliers or distributors. They are almost a law unto themselve trying to dictate terms to all and sundry but still incapable of conducting profitable operations.
The government has also not covered itself in glory being hand in glove with the airport operators in increasing usage charges manifold. This likely is a fit case for a closer look by the CAG but considering that CBI continues to be a Govt puppet at best this would not result in any relief for airlines as well as customers.

I hope better sense prevails and we are able to experience a better aviation experience.

Jet Airways
1 decade ago
Jet Airways does not insist on an eticket printout to enter the airport but this is a security requirement by the civil aviation authorities.

We observe a significant number of guests queuing up at our counters for re-prints of etickets due to which dedicated resources are being increasingly deployed. This last minute pressure for eticket reprints is also causing great inconvenience to our other guests who want to purchase tickets for immediate departures. We believe this increased cost of servicing of eticket reprints should be borne by only those who request for reprints and hence we have implemented the INR 50 charge. Jet Privilege Platinum members are exempt from this charge and we encourage all guests to get an eticket print at the time of ticket issuance.

Jet Airways is working together with the various stakeholders to provide seamless travel using mobile/bar code technology which will do away with eticket prints. We look forward to its implementation following regulatory approvals.
Replied to Jet Airways comment 1 decade ago
Dear 9W, thank you for writing in - it would be of interest as well as use to us if you could provide us with cogent details of steps taken or correspondence exchanged with MoCA, BCAS, AAI, CISF, MoHA or others on the subject of paperless access to airports and aircraft.

And one reason some of us take printouts from your counters is because your eTicket uses up a lot of ink, with all that fancy artwork and black sectors. A simple product, with ease of reading all the required fields, may help.

Replied to Jet Airways comment 1 decade ago
Makes sense. Thanks for the clarification
1 decade ago
it seems absurd that police at entry check for e-tkt print-out & ID proof. anyone can print any ticket at home & show it with ID to enter (at least to save the ridiculous entry fees for public or to gain access on days when access to public is curtailed).
they can hardly validate if it is a valid PNR, because they don't have such a facility (even though it should not be hard to build).
the right approach would be to have your e-tkt print-out stamped/validated by the airline counter outside, which can then be checked at point of entry.
of course, this would burden the airline staff (who would prefer to remain idle) & thus you may see charges of rs 50 for validating your print-out...
1 decade ago
Apt article, squeezing the passenger every inch of the way through our increasingly unfriendlier skies - tolls on access roads, user development fees, service charges, more taxes and now this printout charge.

In a day and age when paperless travel is the vogue, our civil aviation authorities would have us go back to the dark ages.

Here, for information, is the latest from Indian Railways - who went paperless on most options lately - Delhi Metro, reserved accomodation, tickets bought online . . .

Electronic Reservation Slip (ERS) - The printout in standard specified Performa containing reservation particulars, and instructions for use which can be used by the passenger along with the relevant authorized Identification, as travel authority for performing the journey.

Virtual Reservation Message (VRM) - A screen-shot of the e-ticket displayed through laptops/palmtops/ Mobile phone is referred as Virtual Reservation Message (VRM).

ERS/VRM/SMS sent by IRCTC along with any one of the nine prescribed ID proofs in original and the indication of the passenger(s)' name(s) in the Reservation Chart will authorize the passenger to travel

VRM/ SMS sent by IRCTC combined with valid photo-id in original will be treated as an instrument on par with the ERS.

ERS/VRM/SMS sent by IRCTC along with one of the nine prescribed proofs of identity in original will also authorize the passenger to enter the platform on the day of journey and he/she will not be required to purchase platform ticket. ERS/VRM/SMS sent by IRCTC along with original id proof will be required to be produced on demand of Ticket Checking Staff on the platform.

Reference :
1) Railway Board Letter No.2008/TG-I/10/P/SMS dated 20.07.2011

2) Railway Board Letter No.2008/TG-I/10/P/SMS dated 01.02.2012

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