Saturday, June 01, 2019

Ready to be offloaded? Airlines offering $600 per passenger

Mumbai: When Siddharth Verma reached Swiss International Air Lines check-in counter at Mumbai airport with his family of two adults, one child and 14-month-old twins to board a flight to San Francisco via Zurich last month, he was made a tempting offer. If the family was willing to take the next day’s flight instead, the airline would right away give them a compensation of $600 each for being offloaded. With four tickets in the family, it worked out to Rs 1.6 lakh.

Till then, Verma had assumed that airlines extended such offers only to a particular category of passengers couples, solo travellers or groups with uncomplicated itineraries. “I first heard them make this offer to a couple ahead of me in the queue, saying the flight was overbooked. I was surprised when they offered our group the deal too. They were desperate to find passengers willing to be voluntarily offloaded,” said Verma about his May 7 experience at Mumbai airport.

A Turkish Airline passenger who had boarded the May 10, 6.30am flight to Istanbul said, “Our family of four was offered Euro 600 each as compensation if we agreed to be voluntarily offloaded. It worked out to Rs 1.9 lakh. It was too tempting an offer. We couldn’t take it, though, as it would have disrupted our other holiday bookings.”

Like Verma and the Turkish Airline passenger, a number of travellers who checked in for flights to US and Europe in April and May found themselves faced with the choice of setting back their trip in return for compensation.

Overselling seats and then offloading passengers on days when there are not enough “no-show passengers” is common in the airline industry, especially during the peak travel season. What was different this summer was the scale of these operations due to Jet Airways’ closure at the start of the peak travel season.

How many passengers were hit by Jet’s closure? According to Directorate General of Civil Aviation data, in 2017-18, Jet Airways led the list of airlines operating international flights out of India with a market share of around 14%. Approximately 30 million passengers boarded outbound international flights from Indian airports that year, which would bring Jet Airways’ annual share of departing passengers to around 42 lakh passengers in 2017-18. Going by a conservative estimate, that would be 3.5 lakh departing passengers a month. But since April and May are peak travel months, one could assume that the number of passengers flown by Jet in April and May 2018 would be around eight to nine lakh. Since Jet had been reducing its capacity consistently in the last six months, the numbers this summer would have been comparatively lower.
01/05/19 Manju V/Times of India

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