Parliamentary Committee’s observations raises more questions for Indian aviation

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has made some stinging observations on the prevalent business practice adopted by private airlines. Steep baggage charge, exorbitant fares especially during festive seasons and rising cases of alleged high-handedness by airline staff have been flagged by the committee as practices needing redressal.

IndiGo has borne most of the brunt of the 30-member committee, headed by Derek O’ Brain, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha.  The committee has called IndiGo as the “worst airline for consumers” in the country. Their strict baggage policy and alleged “behaviour” towards consumers were sighted as reasons behind the observations. “Our committee is very clear that the worst performing airline for consumers is IndiGo. All 30 members agreed on this. IndiGo has not responded despite many complaints. The way they behave with consumers and charge for just one kg or two kg overweight of air baggage,” Derek O’Brien said in a press conference.

The name-shaming continued further as the Chairman of the committee shared that “every single member (of the panel) was disgusted” “with the way some private airlines are operating but more so with IndiGo, it is discourteous. The airline is very rigid, IndiGo even charges for one-two kg overweight, this has not been taken very well and the committee is looking into the matter seriously.”

Air India, on the other side, garnered praise for its liberal luggage policy. “Air India has best luggage policy,” he said. He also advocated raising the maximum luggage limit prescribed by other airlines. The committee also highlighted that the baggage charges were on the higher side and needed to be looked into.

IndiGo has, meanwhile, released a statement countering charges, stating that its endeavour was to provide a seamless consumer experience. “As an airline, our endeavour is to minimise extra hassle right from the airport entry, check-in to boarding and create a more convenient experience for our customers. We, therefore, evaluate every complaint/feedback rigorously and develop training modules keeping the customer sentiment very much in mind,” IndiGo said.

The committee’s view on exorbitant air fares and capping ticket prices at 50 per cent beyond the base fare are suggestions that would bring respite to millions of flyers. At the same time, operating an airline is a tough business. Most carriers, barring Air India, allow 15-kilos of checked-in luggage, along with 7 kilos of hand-luggage as the permissible limit for a passenger. Beyond the permissible limit, each airline charges a luggage fare depending on its company policy, whether it is a full-service or an LCC, or other such factors. Given the nature of the aviation business in the country and the regulatory framework – which makes India one of the most expensive aviation markets in the world for operators – airlines have found ingenious ways to add to their kitty while keeping the fares low to attract more first-time flyers. Perhaps, a steep baggage fare policy is a means to muscle up ancillary revenue without losing relevance on the fare front.

More affordable air travel is certainly a consumer-friendly policy. A free ticket is the most consumer-friendly policy. But how much of free can be free?

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