Same distance, yet airfare from Dhaka double than from Kolkata

An aircraft of Biman Bangladesh AirlinesFile photo

Air trips are getting costlier despite a growing number of people visiting foreign countries for holidays. Airlines have added aircraft to their fleet to fly more people to foreign destinations. Yet, airfare does not drop; rather it is on the rise.

There has been a trend of charging additional airfare on passengers taking foreign trips during festivals like Eid. In a journey to the same distance from Dhaka and Kolkata, airfare is more than double from Dhaka than from Kolkata.

The distance from Dhaka to Singapore and Kolkata to Singapore is nearly the same. It takes 4 hours 20 minutes to fly from Dhaka to Singapore and 4 hours 25 minutes from Kolkata to Singapore. That means fuel costs will not differ that much, but the air ticket price on the Dhaka-Singapore route is at least Tk 28,000 and while it costs Tk 15,000 only on Kolkata- Singapore costs.

This year, the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays begin on 10 April, and the price differences on that day were learned by visiting various ticket booking websites.

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is another popular destination among holidaymakers. It takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to fly from Dhaka or Kolkata to Bangkok, but airfare is Tk 30,000 on the Dhaka-Bangkok route while the fare is only Tk 12,000 on the Kolkata-Bangkok route.

Members of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) said people are under pressure of inflation. Yet they are eager to spend holidays aboard. So, they seek cheap foreign trip packages, but it has not been possible for higher air ticket prices. Demand for air tickets for popular destinations including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand is more and regular prices of air tickets for these destinations remain high, and that increases further during festivals.

It takes 3 hours and 55 minutes to reach Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, from Dhaka and 4 hours from Kolkata. The minimum airfare is Tk 24,000 to Tk 25,000 on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route while the fare is Tk 14,000 to Tk 15,000 on the Kolkata-Kuala Lumpur route.

Air ticket selling agencies’ organisation Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) said airlines charge additional prices on the pretext of fuel costs and raise airfare during festivals. Airlines are also charging Tk 6,000 to Tk 7,000 per ticket for a 40-minute flight on domestic routes. It takes a maximum of 45 minutes to fly to Kolkata from Dhaka, but the price of Biman Bangladesh Airplanes is more than Tk 15,000 on this route, and that is in no way logical. Other private and foreign airlines are taking advantage of it and charging more prices.

ATAB president Abdus Slam Aref told Prothom Alo there is a trend of making additional profit among airlines and they raise fares once demand surges, which is why the regulating agency should fix the maximum and minimum fares. In addition, there should be a monitoring system so that airlines cannot sell air tickets at their will, he added.

‘Charging 50 people to get 100 passengers’ fare’

Air ticket-selling agencies’ airlines’ operations had long remained shut during the coronavirus pandemic and incurred losses. So, they started charging additional prices during the post-Covid period to meet the deficit. National flag carrier Biman also sells tickets at additional prices, as well as keeps low-priced tickets blocked and high-priced tickets open. At that time, passengers purchase the tickets at a higher price. A ring is running the ticket business.

ATAB former general secretary Md Mazharul H Bhuiyan told Prothom Alo the trend to make profits during the post-Covid period did not stop. Airlines did not pay heed to increase the number of passengers rather they are charging 50 passengers to realise the fare of 100 passengers, he added.

Biman for purchasing tickets directly

State-run Biman Bangladesh Airlines and several budget airlines operate in the neighbouring country. These airlines do not offer all services and carry passengers at lower costs. So, they cannot be compared to Biman which has an obligation to ensure more than 50 different services, and budget airlines cannot offer these services. As a result, the airline can't sell tickets at budget prices regularly. Besides, Biman offers more services than private airlines. Demand for air tickets surges during any festival. Biman will operate 18 special flights on domestic routes to make passengers’ journeys comfortable during the Eid holidays. Biman operates several ticket sales centres in Dhaka and offers a 10 per cent discount for purchasing tickets in-person. Biman also sell tickets through its website and mobile apps.

Biman managing director Shafiul Azim told Prothom Alo Biman has no tendency to make additional profit. Its goal is to provide services to people in addition to keeping the agency profitable. With a surge in demand, ticket prices increase. However, no agency has the opportunity to keep tickets blocked. Passengers can get air tickets at a relatively lower price if they purchase it beforehand. Passengers can also purchase tickets online directly, he added.

Mazharul H Bhuiyan told Prothom Al there is no business policy and nobody listens to anyone. Biman can play a role in keeping the situation under control. If Biman keeps ticket prices at a tolerable level, others must follow suit.

People are also cancelling foreign trips due to high airfares. Tamanna Akter is from the capital’s Mohamamdpur area. She told Prothom Alo they planned to visit Malaysia with family during Eid vacation, but they had to cancel it since they could not afford the costs.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna