Strike a fare deal
Pushpa Girimaji

AS the number of air operators offering transportation services increase and consumer choices widen, it becomes imperative that consumers make an informed selection of the airline.

While choosing an airline, I would put safety foremost in the list. For determining the safety of an air service, one should look at four factors: the age and type of aircraft that the airline has pressed into service, the quality and frequency of servicing of the aircraft — who does it and how well, the experience and the training of the pilot that it employs, and it’s safety track record. The pilot’s qualifications become particularly important during monsoon and winter.

If you go on to the website of airlines, you will get to know the kind of aircraft that they use and the servicing facilities that they have. The website of the Director-General, Civil Aviation, also gives some relevant information in this regard, particularly about the accident record. As for pilots, consumers should demand that the airlines put that information too on the websites.

Next is the fare. Here consumers have a wide choice. Besides the regular fares, there are special offers and, of course, the relatively low fare offered by budget airlines. However, do not assume that the fares of low budget airlines are always cheaper.

Sometimes you may get an even cheaper ticket from the regular airlines. So check it out. Compare the cancellation and re-scheduling policies of the airline before buying the ticket. Air Deccan, for example, charges a re-scheduling fee of Rs 200 for any change that you may make in the ticket. And if you cancel the ticket closer to the date of departure (less than 24 hours, but more than an hour) you also lose 50 per cent of the basic fare, besides the transaction fee.

Similarly, with some of the discounted tickets of regular airlines, you either cannot change your date of travel at all and if you cancel the ticket, you lose most of what you have paid towards it.

With Indian Airlines ‘Select fare’,`A0which is a discounted ticket, you can change your date of travel, but you will be charged Rs 500 towards re-scheduling your ticket. You should also check the rules of the airlines vis-`E0-vis `A0lost tickets.

Punctuality is another important criteria `A0while choosing the airline. Unfortunately, airlines do not put out this information on their websites, like some airlines in Europe do, particularly the low-cost airlines.

Baggage is also another criteria, particularly if you have heavy baggage. While Indian Airlines allows 30 kg per person (economy), private airlines Sahara and Jet allow only 20 kg (economy) and Air Deccan, 15 kg.

Airport services such as tele-check in facilities, time taken for issuing a boarding pass, facilities for physically challenged persons, attitude of the`A0airline staff, their ability to cater to special requests, their promptness in communicating information about delayed or cancelled flights, respect for passengers’ right to information, are some of the other factors that make up the quality of service. Then you have to look at the quality of on-board service, including catering, efficiency of the staff, seat quality , leg space and attitude of the staff. These are particularly important on long hauls.

Most airlines have their "Citizens Charter". Do look at them. You should also go on the net and regularly check websites that put out comments by passengers. A website — Skytrax — would give you useful information in this regard. You can not only read the comments of passengers on this site, but can also add your own experiences with different airlines.