No one would dispute the fact that Indian expatriates working in the Gulf region are the largest single contributors to our economy. And all would be in the forefront in acknowledging this contribution in their speeches. However, nobody is seriously interested to listen to or try to solve, their grievances related to their lives. Besides, most of our machinery have a knack of competiting for squeezing our diaspora to the utmost.
It is customary for airlines to jack up airfares at will, and quite arbitrarily, during the seasons when most travel to or from their home country. It is not only the private carriers, but even Air India is not far behind in this profiteering. Never have airlines or the political leadership been prepared to heed the NRI's complaints in this regard. And coming to this year, when Kerala schools are entering their vacation period, airfraces have been skyrocketing at an unprecedented scale.
One would be simply amazed on looking at the fares on offer for the Kerala Gulf sector this year from different airports starting 1 April, when the school vacation starts exactly. Economy class fares have been hiked by 200 to 400 per cent. Of late, the trend of entire families travelling to the Gulf, has been on the rise. Airlines are vying with each other in capitalising on this as much as they can. Some airlines have created a record by fixing fares from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai as high as Rs 69,438 and to Doha at Rs 88,705.
Raising fares during vacation season, called peak period, is normally part of airline business, which usually ranges from 50 to 100 per cent. But what we see now is a scale where it has crossed all limits and reached that of virtually looting. Private operators doing this is to an extent understandable. But, public sector carrier Air India seems to be in an attempt to outdo them all. This year's fare hikes would make one suspect there is some cartelling of involving major airlines going on behind this unusual fare hike. Many passengers who were floored to see such high fares had begun booking seats from stations like Chennai and Bengaluru, but then were only surprised to see that tickets from those airports had also started costing very high. Which means, air carriers seem to have a policy of squeezing passengers in the Gulf sector at any cost.
Two weeks ago, following the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max aircraft crash, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had ordered the grounding of that class of planes. That resulted in the suspension of operation of 75 such aircraft. It is true that this did cause some crisis in the civil aviation sector which airlines are citing as a justification. But if that is the reason for the increase, it begs the question why that hike is limited to the Gulf sector alone. And the hike has been applied to routes that do not use 737 Max aircraft too. That means, the restriction on use of 737 Max aircraft is only a justification used to mislead the people.
So far, neither DGCA nor other related authorities have come forward to intervene in this irrational fare hike which in effect plunders the passengers. Although Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has appealed to central civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu to intervene in the matter towards bringing down the fares, the carriers look like continuing with their fleecing in all likelihood. This is a time when pressure and protests should come from the part of expatriate collectives. The fact that even at the time of elections there is no way to act on a matter affecting lakhs of NRI's, only speaks for the apathetical approach of our political leadership towards the diaspora.