AI cheap fare challenge

New Delhi, Nov. 19: National carrier Air India has dared rivals with a scheme offering concessional fares in January-March, considered a lean season in aviation.

The short-term promotional scheme will be for specific domestic sectors between January 16 and March 31, 2013. Tickets will be sold for just three days, from November 19 to November 21.

Air India officials feel the move will help to fill up seats during the lean season between January and March. One-way fares, inclusive of all taxes, have been kept in the range of Rs 1,799 to Rs 4,199.

"We are sure that it will help us fill up all our seats for the first three months in 2013 as bookings have already started. This has been a tried and tested formula and as always will pay good yields and help us capture a sizeable market share during the lean season," said a senior Air India official.

Under this scheme, price of a one-way Delhi-Calcutta ticket has been kept as low as Rs 3,699, while a Chennai-Calcutta ticket is available for Rs 2,699. A one-way ticket to Bhubaneswar from Calcutta will cost just Rs 1,799. Besides, cancellations and refunds can be done for a fee.

Rival airlines have not yet jumped into the bandwagon and are waiting to see the response from passengers.

"As the first three months of the year are considered lean, bookings are anyway slow and such a scheme will add to our problems. We will see how Air India's scheme does and will act accordingly. But we cannot keep fares low as we are running in losses and hurt by high aviation turbine fuel prices," said a senior official of a Delhi-based airline.

Air India had recently said it would operate a flight every hour in the Mumbai-Delhi sector. "Air India will be providing flights between Mumbai and Delhi (both ways) every hour. Passengers wishing to travel can fly every hour between 6am and 11pm," an official said.

The hourly service means 36 flights daily between Mumbai and Delhi, most of which are direct and a few will be stopovers.

The Delhi and Mumbai airports account for almost 60 per cent of the domestic passenger traffic. The airline services the sector with Airbus A-320s and A321s. Air India has toppled private airline Jet Airways to take the second place in terms of domestic market share in September this year. IndiGo holds the top spot.