Kashmir airfares soar higher than international flights

IOK - Indian Occupied Kashmir Jammu & Kashmir

Srinagar: As the tourist season kicks off with the opening of the famous Tulip Garden in Kashmir, airfares to Srinagar have skyrocketed, making travel to the Valley even more expensive than international trips.

The prohibitively high ticket prices are deterring tourists and burning a hole in the pockets of locals who need to travel from Srinagar to other parts of the country.

The average airfare from Delhi to Srinagar has jumped from Rs 4000 to Rs 5000 to a staggering Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000.

Fares to other cities across India have also seen a sharp spike.

For residents of Srinagar who need to travel outside Kashmir or back to Srinagar for work, education, or medical reasons, the soaring air travel costs have compounded their difficulties.

Jammu and Kashmir Hoteliers Club Chairman, Mushtaq Chaya expressed outrage over the exorbitant airfare hike, which has caused significant distress to locals.

“The government should take strict action against those responsible for this arbitrary pricing. A mechanism to cap airfares is crucial to prevent hardship for all,” he said.

Echoing similar sentiments, Manzoor Ahmad, a travel agent, said, “Air tickets to Kashmir are now costlier than flights to Gulf countries. We promote tourism year-round, but these airfares make our place more expensive than foreign destinations. The government should intervene to control pricing.”

A House Standing Committee had highlighted its worry that the high airfares imposed by some airline operators in the domestic sector, as well as the tactics being employed in costing, were misleading the public and pushing consumers to pay more.

“The level of misinformation can be gauged from the fact that even after the last tickets have been sold, the same number of seats is shown on the website, as indicated before the ticket sale. This indicates that airline operators are misleading the people and forcing passengers to pay more,” the panel said in the Demand for Grants (2023-24) report of the Civil Aviation Ministry.

Given this, it was recommended that the Ministry formulate appropriate guidelines regarding the rationalisation of fares and publish the correct information on the website of the airlines.

It also pointed out that ‘predatory pricing’ was being restored by the domestic airline sector.

“A particular airline may sell its air tickets at such a low level that other competitors cannot compete and are forced to exit the market. A company that does this will see initial losses, but eventually, it benefits by driving competition out of the market and raising its prices again,” the report said.

The committee desired to know whether the aviation regulator, the DGCA had at any point in time intervened to check the fares of air tickets.

It also expressed concern at the fact that in the domestic sector, private airlines were charging different fares for the same sector, route, and direction of flights.

This is specifically so for the northeastern region and hilly areas including J&K and Ladakh, where the prices of domestic sector tickets are, sometimes, even more than the international airline sector prices, the committee said.

The committee took note of the fact that after the repeal of the Air Corporations Act, 1953, airfare was market-driven and depended on market fares, and was neither established nor regulated by the government.

“It notes the DGCA’s comments that the airfares were regulated for a fixed period during the COVID pandemic in compliance with the Aircraft Act, 1934, and the regulation was withdrawn as the COVID pandemic abated and that airlines are free to fix reasonable tariffs under the Aircraft Rules, 1937, about the cost of operation, services, reasonable profit, and generally prevailing tariff,” the report said.__GK Kashmir