Indian airlines have been quick to unbundle select services and announce separate charges for them,less than a fortnight after the government allowed them to do so,but have not pruned base fares simultaneously as they were supposed to.
Over the last few days,leading airlines have listed charges for some services since the government announced on April 29 that passengers could be made to pay separately for preferential seating,meals and drinks except water,usage of airlines lounges,carrying check-in baggage,sports equipment carriage,musical instrument carriage and luggage specially declared valuable.
The civil aviation ministry had said that the move would allow airlines to keep a lower base fare and give passengers the flexibility to pay for services they need,thereby reducing the overall cost of travel.
Following the announcement,IndiGo,Indias largest carrier in terms of passengers flown,has put a price tag on all seats including even the middle seats in its fleet of Airbus A-320 aircraft in both the international and domestic sectors. Jet Airways has put a price on seat selection on its international flights but not for middle seats.
Passengers will be charged only if they prefer a particular seat although it is not clear whether this applies only at the time of booking a ticket or even at the check-in counter.
Jet and Air India have also reduced the free check-in baggage allowance for domestic passengers and Air India is contemplating charging for food on both domestic and international flights.
But the airlines have not cut their base fares and claim fares should fall in due course after they get a clearer picture of the revenue potential from unbundling of services.
Civil aviation ministry officials said that airlines are likely to be told to be more transparent about the new charges during its quarterly meeting with airlines scheduled to take place by the end of this month.
There has to be a limit to the number of seats an airline can put a price tag on. If you are charging for all seats then there is a problem somewhere, said a senior ministry official.
IndiGo said it is being transparent and seats are chargeable only if a passenger opts for it. The seats are not chargeable if the passenger does not opt for it. In case there is only a window seat left and the passenger does not offer any choice of seat,he/she will be provided the seat without any charge, an IndiGo spokesperson said.
Jet Airways did not respond to questions emailed to it.
The Air Passengers Association of India,which has opposed unbundling of services,is not convinced and demanded more transparency in the manner these levies are being imposed.
I fear that airlines will start charging extra families or groups who want to get seats together and face the prospect of being allotted separate seats. All this is nothing but attempts to raise fares indirectly, said D Sudhakara Reddy,national president of the Air Passengers Association of India.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA),which is monitoring the situation,has asked IndiGo to make the system more transparent on its website. The DGCA has also asked IndiGo to put a condition in their ad on the website clarifying that the charges are levied only if one opts for it, said a senior DGCA official.