Air fares in India rise again: Here's what you need to know

Security fees have been increased as the Indian aviation sector looks to recover from the dent suffered due to the pandemic

Air fares in India rise again: Here's what you need to know
Vistara and Air India planes at the Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Instagram/atc.spotter

Air travel in India continues to get costlier with the government increasing the aviation security fees (ASF) on all domestic and international flights from April 1, 2021.

As Indian airports look to recoup the losses suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ASF on domestic routes has been hiked from Rs 160 to Rs 200 and those on international routes from $5.2 (Rs 381.75) to $12 (Rs 880.96). 

As is evident from the revised rates, the hike in the international segment, unlike that in the domestic segment, has been substantial. International air traffic to and from India has practically been decimated over the past year. Scheduled international commercial air travel continues to be banned by the Indian government since March 23 last year as the world struggles to come to grips with the coronavirus and its mutant versions. India has allowed international air traffic only in the form of Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) and air bubble flights.  So, the greater need to recover the losses in the international segment is perhaps justified. 

This is the second time in six months that the Indian government has increased the ASF levied on all passengers, according to a report in simpleflying.com. The ASF hike comes close on the heels of the government moving to phase out the fare-capping policy that it had instituted following the reopening of the domestic sector after a two-month Covid-induced hiatus to prevent airlines from charging exorbitant amounts in a situation of limited availability.

Also read -- Indian govt hikes airfare caps: Here's how passengers will be affected

In February this year, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) increased the lower and upper limit of fares of air tickets by 10-30%. Then, last month, the lower fare band was raised by 5% as aviation turbine fuel (ATF) became costlier. 

ASF is essentially used to fund the cost of security at airports, including paying for the maintenance of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel at all checkpoints. Considering the high risk at airports, which are often the target of terrorists and hijackers, countries around the world invest a substantial amount in security and the fees are typically passed on to the passengers.  

The rise in the ASF on domestic routes would mean that the price of discounted tickets would increase rather than the airlines absorbing the cost, the simpleflying report noted. With footfall at the Indian airports having decreased since the pre-Covid times and domestic passenger numbers at 70-80% of the pre-pandemic levels, there was a need for a price hike to cover the cost of security, which has, in fact, remained unchanged. 

The domestic sector witnessed robust leisure demand during the winter and the festive season, but the detection of mutant strains of the coronavirus, a renewed Covid surge in the country and restrictions on air travel imposed in several states have made travellers wary again. According to a Bloomberg article, a second summer lost to the coronavirus crisis would spell absolute disaster for the aviation industry. 

Frontline global aviation body, International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents close to 300 airlines comprising 82% of the global traffic, had urged the Indian authorities to defer the hike in ASF rates, according to a Times of India report.

After three quick hikes, the ASF rates per domestic ticket would increase 54% from Rs 130 before July 2019 to Rs 200 now. The rates for the international outbound passengers would increase 370% from $3.25 before July 2019 to $12 now, the IATA noted.     

"...the latest round of ASF rate increases are being implemented without the necessary consultation, or any rate increase justifications provided to users. Even the previous round of ASF rate increase (effective September 2020) was implemented when the aviation industry and passenger demand was reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic... Taking into account GST, the ASF rate for domestic and international passengers (from April 1) are in fact Rs 236 and $14.16 respectively," Conrad Clifford, IATA Regional VP (Asia-Pacific) wrote in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola. 

Also read: Air tickets to get costlier as Covid-era fare-capping recedes

Clifford added that in these uncertain times created as a result of the pandemic, such cost escalations would be "detrimental to our collective recovery efforts". He pointed out that various other governments and service providers have been freezing or cutting charges to facilitate faster recovery of air traffic.   

Certain categories of passengers have, however, been exempted from paying the increased security fees. These include children under the age of two years, diplomatic passport holders, airline crew on duty and transit passengers taking a connecting flight on the same ticket within 24 hours of the first one.