Monday, October 23, 2017

Wait-listed Rajdhani passengers may get to fly Air India: Why was this sensible idea given short shrift?

New Delhi: If the ambitious scheme of allowing wait-listed passengers on Rajdhani trains to fly Air India at an incremental fee were to actually work out, it would perhaps be good for the Railways as well as the ailing national airline. Not to mention a world of good it would do to harassed passengers. Peak season travel could perhaps become less of a harassment for rail passengers - the railways has to routinely deny seats to wait-listed passengers while airlines like Air India fly mostly with about one in four seats empty. So additional passengers who are willing to pay a bit extra to reach their destination by air would only be good news for Air India.

But as things stand, this scheme is literally up in the air. Now that Air India is on the path for disinvestment, such a scheme is hardly expected to be put in place with any urgency. Besides, it is not a new thought actually. It has been buried in stuffy files at the Airlines House, which houses the offices of Air India in New Delhi, for years. The scheme was first proposed by ex-Railway officials who had been deputed to work with the airline three-four years back. Since then, it has been gathering dust due to official apathy, with both the Railways and Air India blaming each other and none taking the initiative forward.
But let us get back to the Air India bit. This report  in The Times of India says train passengers with unconfirmed AC-I or AC-II tickets for Rajdhanis may soon be able to fly to their destination by paying the difference in the price of train and air tickets. It says present Railway Board chief and ex-Air India CMD, Ashwani Lohani, had planned the move last summer but the railways had not reacted to it positively then. Now, Lohani has said he will clear the plan if AI comes up with it again. A large number of people end up with unconfirmed AC-II Rajdhani tickets almost every day due to a severe demand-supply crunch in the railways. AC-II Rajdhani fares are more or less similar to air fares, Lohani has added.
Two years back, SpiceJet had been the first airline to take off with this ambitious scheme . At that time, an IRCTC official had explained that through such a tie-up, all tickets passed on by SpiceJet and GoAir were sold to wait-listed train passengers. There were some riders, of course. This scheme only applied to tickets booked at least three days prior to the date of the journey, these train tickets could only be cancelled on a specific website and flight tickets were available only for the day of the train journey or a day prior to it.
There were no fixed sectors to which the scheme applied, no fixed number of tickets either airline must make available to IRCTC and no fixed rates. The incremental payment for a flight (over and above the train fare) depended on the sector and prevailing prices. So sometimes, it transpired that the flight ticket was actually cheaper than the train fare while other times, the passenger had to shell out more. The fare difference, of course, depended on the sector, whether it was busy season for the airline industry etc.
23/10/17 Sindhu Bhattacharya/First Post
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