March 10: A Bangalore-based IT professional who decided at the last moment to spend Holi with his family back in Calcutta had to shell out Rs 19,000 for a flight tonight.
That's Rs 10,000 more than what airlines usually charge for a last-minute ticket on the route.
Naktala resident Surjyasikha Das missed the 7.40pm Duranta Express for her journey back home from Delhi yesterday. Desperate to return home in time for Holi, the management teacher at JIS University started looking up for airfares but the cheapest on offer was Rs 16,000, more than double the average price on the route.
As thousands working outside Bengal are flying home on the eve of the Dol-Holi weekend, one-way airfares to Calcutta are soaring to the sky in response to the surge in demand.
The surge is in sync with a pattern that has become familiar over the past several years, resulting from Bengal's bleak industrial scene.
The lack of job opportunities is prompting educated youths of the state to flock out in search of a satisfying career. A large number of them fly back home on festive occasions.
"It has been observed over the past several years that the prices of inbound tickets go up at the start of a festive season. Outbound fares, on the other hand, surge once a festival gets over and people fly out to their workplaces," a travel industry insider said.
A one-way fare from Mumbai to Calcutta was varying between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 on a portal for booking air tickets tonight. The average one-way fare on the route, tour operators say, is Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000.
The Calcutta-Mumbai fare has gone up too - to Rs 15,000 - but it was still much less than the inbound fare.
To put things in perspective, a round trip to Bangkok usually costs around Rs 16,000.
"Inbound airfares surge before long weekends as hundreds of professionals working outside the state return. But this weekend the fares to Calcutta from cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai have escalated to a level usually seen during the Puja," said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.
The fares from Calcutta to these cities were below Rs 10,000 tonight.
Airline officials said seats were filling up fast this evening and most Calcutta-bound flights in the late hours had one or two vacant seats left. "The fares are going up every hour for Calcutta-bound flights," said Debjit Ghosh, regional sales, head (east), SpiceJet.
Airport officials said they recorded a spurt in the passenger footfall in the arrival lounge this evening and the trend continued for several hours.
Additional reporting by Sudeshna Banerjee