Sunday, September 19, 2021

Domestic flyers: Now, get low airfares on booking 16 days before date of travel and Govt allows more flights

New Delhi: You will now be able to get domestic air tickets at lower rates for travel beyond 15 days of booking. Fare bands will now apply to domestic tickets booked within 15 days of travel, instead of 30 earlier.

And airlines can now operate more domestic flights — upto 85% of their pre-pandemic capacity instead of the earlier 72.5%. This is the maximum capacity deployment allowed during the pandemic as before the second wave, the allowed highest domestic capacity was 80%. The winter schedule comes into force next month end and the industry is hoping that if Covid remains under control with steady rising vaccination numbers, airlines may be allowed to return completely to pre-Covid domestic capacity.

The aviation ministry on Saturday allowed airlines to sell domestic tickets based on market forces of demand and supply — without adhering to fare bands — for travel beyond 15 days. This means, a person booking on October 1 can book a ticket for travel after October 15 (15 days from date of booking) can be offered rates by airlines that are lower than the prescribed minimum for that domestic route as also higher than the allowed maximum under the fare bands. Called rolling fares bands, the earlier time period was 30 days which has now been cut by half to 15.

This also means that fare bands put in place last May when domestic flights were allowed to resume after a two-month suspension during the lockdown, will continue for some time. Now that there is no date till when fare bands ramein in force and with rolling fare bands in place, the same shall remain applicable till the government withdraws the same.

Senior airlines industry officials expect fare bands to remain in place till 100% of pre-domestic capacity is allowed, something that may happen when the winter schedule gets effective next month end.

Low cost carriers account for almost 80% of domestic air travel. The thumb rule for budget flyers, in pre-Covid times, was book early and get low fares. And closer to date of travel, spot fares rise. This way airlines get cash flow and early birds get low fares. The shorter window for which domestic fare bands are applicable will allow airlines to offer lower than the minimum fares for not so early birds. “There will be more bookings as people can be offered lower fares and airlines can get cash flow to sustain operations during these tough times,” said an official.

18/09/21 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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