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Fare relief for senior citizens on A-I radar

New Delhi, Dec. 16: There’s good news for senior citizens planning to go abroad: Air-India is likely to provide fare concessions from early next year in much the same way that Indian Airlines and private airlines offer on domestic travel.

Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain told the Lok Sabha today that Air-India was considering extending the facility to senior citizens from next year as part of its social obligation.

Concessional fares for senior citizens has been in vogue in the domestic market from the early 1990s, when domestic major Indian Airlines extended a cheap-fare scheme for the elderly.

Says Debasish Chatterjee, a leading travel operator: “These schemes actually help the airlines earn more instead of less. For example, in sectors where the normal seat factor or seats sold percentage is 60 per cent, another 10-15 per cent extra travel on old age, student and army concessions. If these concessions were not there, the airline would have sold just the basic 60 per cent seats.”

The same logic applies for group concessions and cheap-ticket schemes like Apex or hefty discounts that various airlines give out. “It’s just a way of getting some additional revenue where there were none,” admits a civil aviation ministry official.

But by extending them to the international sector for Indian citizens, the BJP government would also be extending a feel-good factor for middle-class urban voters, its main constituency throughout the country.

“We are also trying to get the private airlines to follow this policy as part of their social obligation,” Shahnawaz said.

Since October 2001, Air-India and Indian Airlines have stopped issuing free tickets, except for normal sales promotion and publicity, the minister said.

When pressed to say how much expenditure was being incurred on complimentary tickets, the minister said: “The revenue loss on account of such complimentary tickets is notional. Such free-ticket passengers are generally accommodated only after accommodating the revenue paying passengers.” However, he said if the members were interested in the figures, he would give it though there was no actual loss on account of the complimentary tickets.

The minister said Air-India has also reduced commission to agents from 9 per cent to 7 per cent, which has resulted in a saving of Rs 90 crore for the airlines.

Air-India earned a net profit of Rs 15.46 crore during 2001-02. In the first half of the current year also, Air India has earned a net profit of about Rs 46 crore, he said.

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