Air India is allowing travel agents to sell seats only on select flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and “other inventories have been blocked”, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) has alleged.
Asked about the matter, Air India told PTI it has received several complaints from passengers about overcharging by agents or their sub-agents, especially on sectors with high demand, and consequently, it has been “compelled to restrict access of distribution” on such sectors.
In a statement late on Thursday night, the TAAI alleged that at a juncture when economies are trying to revive and come back on their feet, Air India continues to play “monopolistic”.
“After our repeated request to your good-selves, agents were permitted to book on the GDS (global distribution system), but now inventories have been blocked and selective sectors are only being permitted. This is totally unfair and biased,” it added.
The TAAI has over 2,500 travel agent companies as its members.
“We once again request you (Civil Aviation Ministry and Air India) to ensure that accredited member travel agents are given due respect and permitted to promote and sell airline seats…on all sectors that are being operated by Air India under the Vande Bharat Mission,” it said.
Moreover, Air India should withdraw its statements asking the passengers to report any issue of overcharging by travel agents for flights under the Vande Bharat Mission, the TAAI demanded.
“Such communications (of Air India) are demeaning to our member agents in the trade who you call ‘Travel Partners’,” it said.
The TAAI has written two letters on the matter — one on July 30 and another on August 6 — to the Civil Aviation Ministry and Air India.
Asked about the matter, Air India told PTI that it has been operating the Vande Bharat Mission flights under directions from the government to evacuate Indian citizens stranded abroad due to the cessation of scheduled flight operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This initiative is also serving Indians working/studying abroad to travel and rejoin their companies/institutions from India,” the national carrier said in a statement.
It added that it has also been keeping fares at a very reasonable level, in spite of the mounting costs due to several constraints in India and abroad during the pandemic.
“After opening sale of flights to travel agents, Air India received several complaints from passengers of overcharging by agents or their sub-agents, especially on sectors with high demand. To address the issue, Air India has been disseminating complete information on country-wise criteria and documents required for travel to make the exorbitant service charges unjustifiable.
“For this, Air India has been compelled to restrict access of distribution of high-demand sectors to agents with the sole purpose of safeguarding the interest of passengers in these trying times,” it said.
On July 29, Air India had said on Twitter that passengers booking tickets through travel agents on international flights operating under the Vande Bharat Mission must not pay more than the fares mentioned on the airline’s website.
It had added: “Passengers facing any issue of overcharging by travel agents may kindly write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in the country since March 23 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, since May 6, special international flights are being operated by Air India under the Vande Bharat Mission to help people stranded abroad to reach their destinations. Private carriers too have operated a certain number of flights under the initiative.