KOLKATA: Private airline companies, operating in India, have reopened advanced bookings for both domestic and international flights. Their respective websites show that booking systems have begun operating from Saturday. Spicejet and GoAir websites show that they are taking bookings with departures from 16 May. Meanwhile, Indigo and Vistara have decided to start bookings for flights, departing from 1 June. However, State-owned Air India is yet to restart bookings at all.
India is going through a 40-day nationwide lock-down, in effect, from March 25th, to curb the spread of Coronavirus. It was originally set till 14th April but got extended to May 3. Now, this airline decision comes exactly a week after Civil Aviation Ministry reprimanded several airline companies for restarting bookings for flights, set to depart, after the first phase of lockdown. The ministry had further directed them not to open bookings, till further instructions.
Even though private airline carriers had reopened bookings for a few days, starting April 14th, it was Air India’s decision to do the same from April 18th that drew the ministry’s ire. The DGCA was compelled to release direct orders, after vexed tweets from Civil Aviation minister, to stop taking bookings. It is not clear, at the moment, if airline companies have got the ministry’s approval to reopen bookings.
The centre eased a few restrictions for select businesses, on Saturday. It is possible airlines took that as a signal to restart their business activities. They are jumping the gun with this decision because they are struggling with permanent operational costs alongside heavy losses. Airlines have tried to cut costs, during this time of crisis, by doling out job or pay cuts or sending their staff on leave without pay.
Airlines have been receiving public umbrage as they had restarted bookings during lock-down, without proper sanctions, effectively locking in public finances. In many cases, the customers’ money wasn’t refunded at all, even after government orders. instead, airlines created a ‘credit shell’ for their customers and agents for later bookings. The customers were thus left in a peculiar situation, locked in by the airlines to fly with it, the next time, even if they didn’t want to.
This severely hurt travel agents like MakeMyTrip and EaseMyTrip too. They usually pay money in-advance for bulk bookings. But they have no access to the mutual ‘wallet’ that received funds from airlines when they refunded the customers who wished to cancel their tickets.
A May 16th Spicejet flight from Delhi to Bengaluru is currently available at ₹3,500. Indigo is charging the same price for a 1 June travel on the same route. A June 1st Delhi-Mumbai flight is available on Vistara for ₹4,400 while Go Air is charging ₹2,500 for a 16 May flight on the same route. A June 1st Delhi-Kolkata Vistara flight is available for ₹3,800 while Indigo is charging ₹3,400 for the same.