Addressing the Plight of the Air Passenger

It becoming important to review the plight of the air passenger and as to what he has to go through during air travel

Issue: 1 / 2019By B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By SP Guide Pubns

While flagging off an inaugural flight under the UDAN Regional connectivity scheme, Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Civil Aviation said that the aviation sector in India was making rapid progress. He went on to say that the airline industry in India witnessed a growth rate of 19.6 per cent in air passenger traffic in June 2018 and that now, India is the fastest growing civil aviation market in the world. Apart from what he stated, it is a well known fact that the airline industry in India has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past few years, driven by several new schemes launched by the government, sustained growth in passenger traffic and the sizeable investment by airlines. Analysts in the civil aviation industry see India becoming the third largest aviation market in the world by 2025, an achievement that has an enormous potential of creating fresh employment opportunities under a wide professional spectrum in the aviation industry. With the right policies related to the civil aviation industry and relentless focus on quality, cost and interest of passengers, India would be well placed to achieve its vision of becoming the third-largest aviation market in the world by 2025.

But there is the downside of the industry too. Over the last few years, the airline industry has been reeling under fierce competition as also the constantly increasing operating expenditure primarily on account of rising cost of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) which incidentally is unreasonably high and perhaps the highest in the region if not the world. Even while price of crude oil plummeted in the Middle East, price of ATF continued to be high primarily on account of the exorbitant central and state taxes imposed on the finished product as also the unfavourable exchange rate on account of the Rupee falling vis-á-vis the Dollar. The problem has been further compounded by the reluctance of the central and state governments to bring petroleum products under the regime of Goods and Services Tax (GST). As expenditure on ATF accounts for around 45 per cent of the operating cost of an airline in India, the Indian carriers continue to bear this unwarranted burden which they are not able to fully pass on to the air passenger.

The focus of debate and discussion about the airline industry in the public domain is generally confined to the issues stated above. Unfortunately, for some reasons, the perspective of the air passenger is almost totally ignored. While it would be in the national interest to promote the Indian airline industry as it is expected to provide efficient, convenient and affordable air travel to an ever increasing segment of the population, it is also becoming important to review the plight of the air passenger and as to what he has to go through while availing the facility of air travel. There have been incidents with some private carriers of deliberately creating long queues at check-in counters to enhance the chances of passengers missing their flights after which they persuade the affected passengers to buy tickets available for the next flight that are priced higher. In fact, charges for cancellation of air ticket booked by an air passenger are exorbitant with the customer getting just a paltry sum as refund. As per Derek O’Brien, Member of Parliament from Trinamool Congress (TMC), who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, during the festival season, some airlines charge eight to ten times more than the normal air fares. But perhaps what is most disconcerting is the rude and discourteous conduct of the airline staff. The most shocking episode that comes to mind was the manhandling by the ground staff of IndiGo Airline of an elderly passenger Rajiv Katyal in November 2017 after he disembarked from an IndiGo flight at Delhi airport. The conduct of the ground staff was nothing short of a criminal assault. There is clearly a need for the regulatory authorities to look at the way the airline industry treats the air passenger who is actually the source of their income.

In December 2018, the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, headed by TMC MP Derek O’Brien, submitted its report on the issues related to improving consumer satisfaction in the Indian airline industry. The report highlights the problems and chastises private carriers for their alleged malpractices. Finally, things appear set to change in the airline industry for the air passenger.