Airlines operating to India from Middle-Eastern countries are reaping huge profits after two years of COVID-19-induced lull.
The passengers, however, are not a happy lot since the airfares have skyrocketed. Tickets that cost less than Rs 10,000 till recently have now touched almost Rs 70,000. Travelling home with family would burn a huge hole in the pockets of expats, as it would make them poorer by lakhs of rupees.
Even if they are willing to shell out huge amounts, they are often disappointed since most flights have been fully booked. Under these circumstances, several of them are depending on connection flights home.
What contributes to the high air fare? How does it affect the expats? Is there a solution to the issue?
Summer vacation and Eid al-Adha
The Gulf countries are now simmering under the scorching summer sun. The heat wave would continue for two more months. The daytime temperature shot past the 50 degrees Celsius-mark at Al Dafra in the UAE the other day. The situation is the same in other Gulf countries also.
Schools in the UAE closed for summer vacation by June-end. They will reopen only on August 29, while schools in Qatar will reopen earlier on August 14.
Airfares going north are common during school vacations. The Eid al-Adha season, too, contributed to a spurt in passengers to India, further fuelling the ticket fare hike.
Eid al-Adha falls in the second week of July, and offices in Gulf nations will be closed for a week ahead of the festival. This, too, has contributed to the heavy rush since several expats had to forgo their vacation during the past two peak COVID years. For them, school vacation and Eid al-Adha holidays coming together have provided an opportunity to visit their native places.
Those in the aviation sector said airfares to all destinations worldwide -- not just to India and Kerala -- from the Gulf countries have increased manifold. Tickets are not available in some sectors even if the passenger is willing to shell out any amount of money.
Rasheed Kunhipaaral, who runs the Fine Travel Agency in Thalassery, said tickets in the Dubai-Cairo sector are not available on the day before Eid. Those in the travel industry said the situation will continue till mid-July, when the festival holidays end and the flow of passengers will increase to the Gulf countries.
The reverse flow will increase the airfare to Gulf nations, making the vacation in Kerala and India an expensive affair. Airline officials pointed at the increase in aviation fuel as well, as a reason for the hike in airfare.
Trap by travel agencies
Another reason for the increased fare is the International Air Transport Association (IATA)-recognised travel agencies purchasing "group tickets." Agencies book tickets in bulk, often all seats, during school vacations in the Gulf and in Kerala, aiming to cash in on the high demand for tickets. The purchase of "group tickets" shoots up the price of tickets available online.
The agencies later sell the tickets for a huge profit. However, "group tickets" will be available for a slightly lesser price. For instance, if the airfare for Kannur to Dubai is Rs 24,000 online for July 4, group tickets of some agencies will be available for Rs 12,800.
Chartering a flight
Several chartered flights operate from the Gulf countries to Kerala considering the vacation rush. Such flights are planned from Doha to Kozhikode during July-August. But the fare will be almost the same.
Rasheed Kunhipaaral said there is always an element of uncertainty over chartered flights getting the clearance of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (GDCA). Clearance may be denied at the last moment, which would affect the plans of those flying home on short vacations. The uncertainty over clearance has reduced the number of chartered flights this season.
Solution: More flights
Azeez Thikkodi, president of the Malabar Development Forum - Kuwait Chapter, said the demand for more flights during the season is years old, and nothing has materialised. The current situation warrants more flights to Gulf nations, but no effort has been made to increase the schedules, he alleged.
Only Air India and IndiGo operate direct service to Kerala. Increasing the number of flights will bring relief to hundreds of expats in the Middle East. Thikkodi demanded a UADAN-like scheme, which caps the domestic airfare, should be rolled out to control the shooting fare of international flights.