When the Government announced public holidays for the Renaissance Day and Eid ul Fitr in the last week of July, which eventually ensured employees a 10-day break from work, all the airline offices and travel agents across the Sultanate were inundated with telephone enquiries, while carrier websites experienced huge traffic as people made last-minute efforts to grab the cheapest tickets on offer to various destinations across the globe.
Most of the queries came from expatriates from the Indian sub-continent who wished to join their families for the Eid celebrations. Only a few could realise their dreams, thanks to the sky-high airfares. However, the exorbitant ticket rates cut a deep hole in the pockets of emergency travellers who had to shell out double, in some cases even triple, the normal fare.
Anil (an expatriate from southern India) had to face many anxious moments before boarding the flight to Kozhikode to visit his critically ill father a day before Eid. He logged on to the website of a premier airline, which operates morning flight to the city in the south Indian state of Kerala, to book online. The website turned down his request, citing unavailability of seats.
Anil didn't waste his time. He rushed to the carrier's office at the Muscat International Airport.
Luck didn't desert him this time, as the staff immediately handed him an Economy Class ticket at a premium price of RO 160 (the normal rate to this destination is between RO 70-80). A surprised Anil wanted to know the reason for non-availability of online tickets as well as the reason for the exorbitant rate he had to pay, but all he got was a meaningful smile from the ticketing staff.
Vinod, another Indian expatriate, too, had to shell out RO 240 (as against the normal rate of RO 120) to buy one-way ticket to Kochi when he went on an emergency during the Eid holidays. There were several others on emergency travel caught in the peak season rush who had to travel at any cost while airlines chose to remain oblivious of their genuine need for emergency travel.
The steep increase has obviously irked the passengers who feel the carriers fleece them during every peak season. While staff of some key airlines operating out of Muscat chose not to deliberate on the subject, a few airline officials justified the hike saying the pricing mechanism was based on the universal market rule of supply and demand.
There is a huge demand for seats during the summer vacation (when schools close), Eid, Christmas and New Year in Oman when expatriates flock to their hometowns. And while the early birds hop onto online booking well in advance to avoid last minute disappointments, there are scores of travelers who have to keep their travel plans on hold for a host of reasons, including official sanction from their employers, availability of funds, etc.
"We have three categories of fare structures (high, low and medium) for high season and low season in both the business and economy classes. The fare structure is based on the universal principle of supply and demand," explains Riyaz Kuttery, General Manager, Jet Airways, Oman. Amresh Choudhary, Country Manager, Air India, attested the same view saying, "Demand and supply decides the prices. When the demand is huge, the prices naturally soar."
As the common traveler sees it, however, it is not just demand and supply that determines the ticket prices. Airline companies, which adopt different methods to boost their revenues, too, play crucial roles in deciding the fares. A common practice among the airliners is to put tickets in different buckets in Economy and Business Classes. The prices vary for tickets in each bucket (normally, airlines float 10 to 11 buckets, each having a different price range).
If one assumes that a carrier has 100 seats available in economy, the first 20 tickets would be sold at the lowest rate (may be for RO 20) during the low season. It is called the lowest bucket, or lowest RBD (Reservation Booking