Up, up & above...

Up, up & above...

Attractive airfares and exciting offers are enticing travellers like never before. Exploring the world is now an interesting affair, writes Amrita Das

A traveller takes several factors into consideration when choosing an airline, especially the airline reputation and its safety standards.

According to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), the recurring losses in the Indian aviation industry are here to stay through 2019. CAPA estimates domestic full-service carriers to file losses worth $1.5 billion and low-cost airlines file about $200 million in the year. Do these disheartening numbers imply the number of Indian travellers flying is plummeting?

In the same breath, CAPA also mentions that Indian aviation will shrink losses by two-thirds this year — owing to the stability of fuel prices and low-cost carriers returning to profitability. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also supported this expectation when they announced in early February saying, “The Indian domestic market recorded the fastest full-year domestic growth rate for the fourth year in a row (18.6%),” followed by China (11.7%).

What do the numbers say?

In 2018, Air India launched nonstop flights to Europe (London, Frankfurt, Paris, Copenhagen, Milan, Stockholm, and more). International airlines like FlyDubai and WOW Air (inaugural flight expected in June 2019) are entering India and existing homegrown airlines, like Jet Airways, are expanding their outbound destinations. The possibilities to fly abroad look brighter and affordable. An official spokesperson of MakeMyTrip says, “We see a good mix of bookings for long and short-haul destinations with Bali, Dubai, Thailand, Mauritius, Prague, Berlin and other Eastern European cities being the most booked international destinations.”

Qatar Airways is probably the best example of this expansion — connecting India to the world. The Middle Eastern carrier has relentlessly secured many awards (including 2018 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for World’s Top 10 Airline, 2018 Skytrax Awards for World’s Best Business Class, 2018 Airline Passenger Experience Association (Apex) for Best Overall Airline: Middle East) and continue to up their services and operations. They have recently launched QSuite (four-person suite-styled coupe in Business Class) from Mumbai and Bengaluru. Qatar flies from 11 cities in India, and most Indians prefer to fly to the US or Europe beyond Doha, Qatar’s hub.

Singapore Airlines, which connects India to the other side of the world travel map, operates from six cities (Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Chennai). Says David Lim, general manager India, Singapore Airlines, “Indians travel to Singapore and to onward destinations equally. Singapore Changi hub offers a convenient transit option for travellers going beyond to Australia, New Zealand, North Asia, Southeast Asia and West Coast USA.”

Within the country, metros continue to be hubs for business and leisure flights, though the rise of Tier 2 cities like Kochi, Jaipur, Madurai, Lucknow and Chandigarh are consistent. Sikkim’s Pakyong Airport was inaugurated in 2018 as a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagri) scheme. Better connections to smaller towns and cities mean more tourism for the region — hence boosting the economy of the state.

Flying factors

A number of conditions contribute to prospective customers buying a flight ticket to their destination. “A traveller takes several factors into consideration when choosing an airline, especially the airline reputation and its safety standards. Ticket pricing matching the standards of the services provided by the airline is one of the major factors,” says Qatar Airways’s spokesperson. Concurs Raj Sivakumar, senior VP worldwide sales & distribution, Jet Airways, “Operational reliability and convenient connectivity are of prime importance for corporate travellers. For leisure travellers or those travelling to visit friends and relatives, ticket price and connectivity are important factors.”

MakeMyTrip’s ‘zero cancellation’ feature has boosted air travel and so far “over 2.5 million users have purchased the product till date.” The feature has aided travellers to avoid the stressful cancellation fee which can go up to 80% of the airfare (about Rs 3,000-4,000 for a refundable fare). These factors remain constant for both domestic and international travel. Business travellers drive the purchase of Business Class or First Class travel within and outside the country. And even in those cases, the reputation of the airline coupled with the services provided remain imperative.

Offers galore

New premium ventures like Vistara (Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons) is one of the many optimistic associations that the Indian aviation industry has witnessed in the past years. A majority of Indian leisure travellers are motivated by offers that various airlines and travel companies frequently hand out. Qatar Airways has flight deals throughout the year for customers booking online to destinations like London, Heathrow, Malta and Miami, amongst others. Singapore Airlines has special return Economy fares to Australia which start at Rs 40,000, Rs 45,000, Rs 50,000 from Kochi, Kolkata and Mumbai, respectively. They also offer a complimentary transit stay in Singapore for customers booking return tickets from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Singapore Airlines also offers a $20 transit reward for passengers transiting through Changi till March 31, 2019, which can be redeemed at all retail and service outlets in the airport.

With so many silver lines lighting the Indian skies, buying the next flight ticket to that exotic destination should only be rewarding.