Don’t book tickets for travel from May 4, 2020 at the moment

About ten days ago, I wrote about how I was not supportive of the fact that people had started to book air tickets at the moment. My opinion at that moment was that there was no surety if air travel will resume on April 15, 2020, so if people book flights and then they are cancelled, there will be no refunds but more money stuck in credit shells. If you remember, the Government of India had never assured flight operations from April 15, 2020, onwards in the first place.

 
With the extension of the lockdown, the scenario has played out. Airlines have purportedly sold tickets without any guarantee of operations between April 15 and 30 2020, and now are hiding behind the credit shells and not offering their money back to the customers. Here is one instance.

However, airlines have now done the same thing again, selling tickets from May 4, 2020, onwards, without any guarantees that the flights will be operating. Have a look here, of an almost full Mumbai – Delhi schedule being sold.

Now, in a situation like this, I understand that further assessment and orders are not something that can be predicted ten days out. So, this puts customers and airlines on two different sides of the equation—an equation which is not equal in the current times.

Usually, customers pay a fare and get to fly on a specific day. Payment for service and consumption of the service are two sides of the equation. In the current scenario, if one ends up paying for a service, there is no guarantee whatsoever if the service will be delivered, because it is a situation not in the hands of the airlines at the moment. They are looking at May 4 as the current day of operation, but what if, this lockdown gets extended and then they can’t operate flights on May 4, 2020, and onwards?

In this situation, airlines will do the same thing that they have been doing. Hand you out a credit shell/voucher for a service they were not able to deliver. And what you will be left with is a promissory note on an airline which may or may not survive the turmoil. (I am assuming the weaker players will again get weeded out, given no bailout is coming, YET). What you need is a refund, and hence this equation becomes unbalanced.

If you are worried about a fare being cheap right now and expensive later, I don’t think that will be the case. Given everyone will start from zero demand again, and the business travellers won’t be in the market (assuming corporate risk departments still keep them grounded), I’d expect prices to be low for a while going ahead if airlines will be operating a full schedule. Even otherwise, your safety is a more significant concern than getting somewhere in the current times.

The bottom line is, get on a plane on May 4 2020, only if you need to. And if you need to go, make sure you first see the grounding lifted on the airline and see them do their first take off before you purchase a ticket. Otherwise, be fully prepared to land yourself a lemon again (a voucher) and finance the working capital of an airline.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you booking tickets for travel in May 2020 yet?


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