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Not all fair in cheap fares

New Delhi, July 30: Every autumn, domestic airlines announce discount fares.

Indian Airlines today expectedly unveiled cheap fares for tickets that have to be booked at least 28 days ahead of a flight. The cut comes on the heels of similar reductions announced last week by Jet and Sahara.

IA and Jet’s low fares, which promise to give Rajdhani’s second class AC a run for its money, will be available till mid-October, just before the Puja holidays start. Sahara’s fares will be valid through the year.

Good news for holidayers' Perhaps.

What passengers looking for a travel bargain are, however, not told is that cheap tickets are either extremely limited in number or, even worse, vary according to the number of higher-paying passengers on a given flight.

If flights are chock-a-block, the first to be offloaded is the ‘’ or Oscar class or high-discount passenger.

Sahara reserves about 5 per cent, which means anything between 6 and 12 seats on any given flight. IA and Jet have kept the number of seats available for high-discount tickets “flexible”.

This means that on a given flight the number of such seats could be as low as one if the airline feels there is a chance to get higher-paying passengers. Alternatively, it could go up to even 10-12 if the seats are going abegging.

Cheap tickets are available in three classes. First, special categories like senior citizens, the handicapped or military personnel; second, the ‘R’ or Roger class passengers who buy tickets at a discount and third, the ‘’ class which is even more heavily discounted.

IA commercial director A.K. Goyal said: “It depends on load factors. If we have high loads, the number of ‘’ class passengers go down. If we have low loads, we will accommodate more ‘’ class passengers.”

But this does not mean that if a 136-seater Boeing 737-400 is going half-empty, 60 ‘’ class passengers will be taken on board. ‘’ class passengers will have to compete for space with the ‘R’ class on which there is a ceiling of about 20-25 seats per flight.

The “flexible” approach is commercially the done thing. But it means passengers could keep trying and yet not get the high-discount tickets or — what could be even more annoying — they could be waitlisted for a long, long time. “It is frustrating. I have to keep explaining to my clients that deep-discount tickets are rare commodities,” says Debasish Chatterjee, a travel agent.

The railway, however, assures that at least two compartments of 48 seats each on its Rajdhanis are available to second class AC travellers.

Sahara chief executive Rono J. Dutta says the fare cuts offered by his airline were made because he was “not satisfied with our market share… not by cannibalising the market” but rather by “expanding it by targeting second class air-conditioned coach passengers”.

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