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Air Travel in India

In the last few years, air travel has gained immensely popularity among a greater section of Indian populace. India, with more than 8 international airports and more than 65 domestic airports, offers a number of airlines including both public and private sectors. The domestic scheduled operators transport around 60 million passengers annually, thus increasing a huge growth in the civil aviation sector.

With multiple airlines operating in India, travellers have a plethora of flying options in terms of time schedule and airfares. Many airlines in India also provide their services through competitive quality standards and attractive schemes from time to time. Among various airlines are Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines along with the budget airlines - IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet, JetLite and GoAir. These are the leading domestic airlines, offering affordable travelling within India. The Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi and the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai are among the busiest airports in the world.

Many international airports in India offer visa-on-arrival facility as well. Citizens from Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia can avail this facility. The fee is around $60 per person and this facility is available at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata airports only. These visas are valid only for 30 days and cannot be extended.

How to book airlines tickets

With a vast network of airports and multiple airlines operators in India, searching and booking airline tickets becomes quite easy. There are a number of ways which travellers can book their airline seats. Following are the simple ways for booking airline tickets:

Airport - All the important cities in India have their own airports. Travellers can book air tickets directly from the airline counters at the airports. In fact, the last minute airline ticket deals can be found here.

Airline websites - There are numbers of airline reservation systems used for domestic ticketing. Travellers can directly visit the respective airline websites to book airline tickets using debit/credit cards. Jet Airways also runs a scheme of buying tickets on EMI option.

OTAs - Tickets can be directly booked from Online Travel websites such as:
Travel air tickets can also be booked on telephone with the airline call centre or through offline ticket agents. The airfares changes daily, so it's a good idea to book in advance to get better deals.

IRCTC - Air tickets can also be booked through the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) portals (www.irctc.co.in and www.railtourismindia.com). An in-house air ticketing module for booking tickets has also been developed by the Corporation, but of now only domestic flights on Indian Airlines is available to the customers.

Types of Domestic air tickets

There are basically two types of domestic airlines tickets -
• Economy Class
• Business Class

Both classes have refundable and non-refundable ticket options. Refundable airline tickets are tickets having possibility of getting a full refund of fare (subtract some minimum deductions/charges) in the case of changes or cancellations. In case of non-refundable tickets, the passenger will not receive any refund from the airline in the case of changes made to the booking.

Baggage allowance

The baggage allowance in economy class is 20 kg and 30 kg in business class. However, the baggage allowance varies depending on the airlines one chooses to travel.

For domestic flights, travellers need to check-in an hour before the departure. A valid identification card is required at the time of check-in. Before check in, the luggage must be X-rayed and stamped. Cabin baggage items also need to be baggage labeled and to be stamped as a part of security check. Airlines to sensitive region or destinations like Kashmir or Ladakh have extra security precautions - cabin baggage may be completely prohibited as well as batteries must be removed from all electronic items and place in the hold. Travellers may also be asked to identify their bags on the tarmac before loading on the plane.

Excess Baggage Fee

If the luggage exceeds the capped limit then travelers have to bear the cost of extra baggage. The charge for excess baggage varies for different airlines, but they generally charge around Rs 150 - 200 per kg. Of recent many airline are providing the option of baggage upgrade. Under this facility, passengers who estimate their luggage to be more than the designated weight can pay for the extra baggage while booking the tickets itself, and that too at a subsidized rate.

List of Items not to be Carried as Cabin Luggage

Following items are not allowed in your cabin luggage -

1. Liquid (is allowed up to 100 ml only)
2. Small Hand tools
3. Matches and lighters
4. Hazardous chemicals (viz cleaning agent)
5. Firearms and ammunitions
6. Knives and other cutting instruments

Cancellation or change of flight booking

Travellers can cancel or change the booking dates upon paying a fee. The cancellation charges as well as the policy vary from airline to airline, depending on the class of booking and fare basis. One can cancel the flight reservation directly with the Airlines by giving the Passenger Name Record or PNR number, ticket no or mobile no. Besides, online travel portals have options for flights bookings cancellation through online or offline or by telephone. However, modification or cancellation should be made at least 2 hours prior to the time of journey.

Concessions on Flights

Various flight operators provide concessional fares on domestic travel. However, these concessional fares are totally dependent upon the type of operator and may vary accordingly. Following are the list of concessional fares offered -

1. Student concession - Few operators like Jet Airways offer 50% concession on the basic adult fare in the economy class across all the sectors. The passenger needs to fill the student's concession form and have to get it authorized by the school or institution they are associated with. This concession is not available on low cost airlines.
2. Senior Citizen Concession - The passenger above the age of 65 years are entitled for a concession on the basic adult fare in the economy class. This is applicable only on tickets purchased in India. This concession is not valid on low cost airline.
3. Armed Force Personnel - This concession is applicable of both regular as well as low cost airlines. If you are a serving as well as retired military personnel then you are entitled for a 50% discount on the basic adult fare in the economy class.
4. Physically Impaired Concession - Guest suffering from locomotive disability or are visually challenged are entitled for a 50% discount on the base fare of the economy class. Not applicable on all airlines.
5. Cancer Patients - A few airlines provide 50% concession on adult base fare on all sectors. Patients must produce a certificate from a cancer hospital or a cancer institute stating that the cancer patient is required to travel for medical treatment or check-up. Not applicable on all airlines.

Frequent Traveller Discount

Almost all the flight operators run a frequent flyer programme, which is a loyalty program. Once the traveler enrolls him/herself with the airlines he/she can accumulate frequent flyer miles (km, points, segments) corresponding to the distance flown on that airline or its partners. Upon earning the required points (depends solely upon the flight operator), travelers can use these points to get discounts on tickets and many other benefits. Some of the most popular frequent flyer programmes are run by Air India (Flying returns), Jet Airways (Jet Privilege), Kingfisher (King Club) and Go Air (Go Air Loyalty program).

Special Assistance

All the flight operators provide special services for its passengers. The list includes - Infants, Minors, Pregnant women, Wheelchair-bound Customers, Crutches / braces / other prosthetic devices, visually impaired Customers, Human remains and Customers requiring stretchers. To avail any of the services, passengers need to make a request for them at the time of booking. The flight operators hold the right to deny these services, if the requests are not made in advance.

Rights of Travellers in Case of Cancellation / Rescheduling of Flights by the Operator

In case the flights are rescheduled or cancelled due to some reason, the airline will notify the customers via SMS. If a flight is cancelled, rescheduled or delayed by more than 2 hours, then the passenger has the right to ask for full refund or get credit for future travel on the same airline. For the connecting flights, in case of cancellation at the place of origin (which may lead to missing of flight at the point of transit), passenger has the right to choose a refund as well as opt for a credit note for future travel. Refund is applicable if the delay is due to airline and not weather or other unavoidable circumstances (which in practice is never).

Baggage Loss

In case of loss of baggage, passengers should contact the airlines and file a report at the airlines counter at the arrival hall. Different airlines have different policies and it may take about 15-20 days. A baggage tracking tool is available on the website of the airlines which will help the passengers in tracking the status of their luggage.

In case of loss, passengers can claim compensation of Rs 400 per kg for checked-in luggage and Rs 4,000 in case of cabin luggage. If the passenger makes a special declaration of value at the time of checking in and pays the supplementary insurance for it in advance then the liability of the airlines is higher.

Upgradation of Tickets

Airlines offer the opportunity of upgrading the ticket based on seat availability, type of fare paid and your frequent flier status. This service is not guaranteed but a few things can help improve your chance in getting a free or affordable upgrade. Besides using your frequent flier program membership, you should arrive early and request for an upgrade at the check in counter. Be courteous, polite and dress well to increase the odds in your favour! You can also pay for an up-gradation and you will be surprised at how less you will have to pay in order to fly upfront.

What is Denied Boarding

All the airlines have the right to deny boarding to the passengers if they do not have proper documentation. Following are the five instances when the travelers can face this situation -
1. Missing Travel documents - Make sure you carry your government issued identification card. It is always better to make a photocopy of the same. In case you lose your ID, the photocopy will help you will all the required information.
2. Invalid Children Passport - Since children's passport is valid only for 5 years, make sure you check the validity of your child's passport before travelling. This is applicable only for international travel, as one does not need passport for travelling within the country.
3. Passport Validity - The validity of passport can be an issue. In general it is required that your passport should have the remaining validity of at least 6 months. So make sure you get your passport renewed at the beginning of the 10th year itself. This is applicable only for international travel, as one does not need passport for travelling within the country.
4. Mutilated Passport - Mutilated passport can cause trouble to any passenger at any airport. This is applicable only for international travel, as one does not need passport for domestic travel.

Travelling with Pets

Pets can be carried as guest baggage or shipped as cargo. Domesticated dogs, cats, rabbits and birds are only allowed to be carried on an air craft. One guest can carry a maximum of 3 containers and need to inform the authorities, well in advance. Female animals with suckling young's, unweaned animals and weaned animal less than 8 weeks of age are not accepted. Also the airline takes no liability in case or injury or death of the pet.

Rapid economic grown of the country has made aviation one of the most common, affordable and convenient way to travel across the country. The Government of India's step to include private players in the aviation industry has made the luxury of air travel a basic necessity even for the middle class section of the country.

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What to suggest, everything was very good. Extremely enjoyed our sightseeing. Sweta was very much helpful.
by Ramesh Maddi (went on 5 day trip to Kochi, Alleppey, Munnar in Feb 2016)

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