Calcutta, Nov. 10: A Mumbai-based lady needing to rush to Calcutta on a family emergency has had to shell out almost Rs 50,000 for a seat on Sunday's 2.45am flight. Her husband, who left on Friday afternoon, had to spend Rs 32,000.
As thousands working outside Bengal are flying home for Diwali, the surging demand has pushed airfares to Calcutta to record levels that few can afford. (See chart)
A key reason appears to be Bengal's bleak industry scene which, in the past one year, has led to a decline in the city's already poor air-connectivity to other metros.
If lack of business has kept the supply of airplane seats low, the lack of jobs means "more people from Bengal work outside ' so the demand for inbound tickets goes up during Diwali", said an airline official.
"I had been desperate for a ticket but virtually no seats were available on Saturday and Sunday," the Mumbai-based lady said. She eventually got a seat for Rs 49,575 on Jet Airways' 2.45am flight, which too is now full despite the unearthly hour of departure.
For a comparison, a round trip to Europe from Calcutta usually costs Rs 45,000 to Rs 50,000 in airfare and one to the US costs between Rs 55,000 and Rs 60,000. The normal Mumbai-to-Calcutta fare ranges between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000.
Most inbound Calcutta flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai are booked full for Sunday and almost so for Monday, the day before Diwali.
"Even the evening flights on Monday are 95 per cent full, and we expect these to get filled up by Sunday," said an industry source.
Calcutta-bound flights had witnessed a high before Durga Puja too but it was nothing compared with what is happening now. Aviation sources confirmed that the demand for tickets is traditionally higher before Diwali than during Durga Puja.
"There has been a significant change in the demand-supply ratio for airline seats over the past one year after Kingfisher's withdrawal from the city. That reduced more than 1,000 seats overall on three routes ' to Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore," said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), Travel Agents Federation of India.
He said other airlines had added less than 500 seats, so a huge gap still exists.
The Calcutta Film Festival has added to the crisis. "Since there are very few international flights to Calcutta, most of the delegates are coming via Mumbai and Delhi. The flow will continue till Wednesday," a tour operator said.
On the Delhi-Calcutta route, the lowest available fare on Jet late this evening was Rs 30,829. On the Bangalore-Calcutta sector, it was Rs 35,499 'four times the normal fare.
All IndiGo flights to the city from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore were booked full for Sunday with the airline's website showing this message: "Sorry, there are no fares available on this date."
Airline sources said airfares for passengers travelling to other metros were not as high. This evening, fares for IndiGo's Bangalore-Delhi flights hovered around Rs 11,000, while Jet offered fares of Rs 25,775 in the Bangalore-Mumbai sector.