Passengers with unconfirmed AC-I or AC-II tickets for Rajdhani Express may soon be able to fly to their destination instead by paying the difference, if any, in the price of the train and air tickets.
Ashwani Lohani had planned the move last summer when he was Air India chairman, but the railways had not reacted to it positively. Now the chairman of the Railway Board, Lohani has said he will clear the plan if AI puts it up again.
“If AI approaches us with this proposal, we will accept it,” Lohani told.
A large number of people end up with unconfirmed AC-II Rajdhani tickets almost every day due to a severe demand-supply crunch in the railways. In a bid to boost AI’s aircraft occupancy, “turnaround man” Lohani had planned that such people’s contact details could be automatically shared with AI, which could then offer them seats on flights for the same destination at competitive rates.
“AC-II Rajdhani fares are more or less similar to air fares,” Lohani said.
However, with the process to privatise or sell government-owned AI now in its final stages, it remains to be seen if the airline goes for such a proposal.
“A benefit of having a government-owned airline… (is that) railways can transfer its unconfirmed premium passengers to state-owned AI. Lohani’s idea is very good. But can railways do the same with a private AI or any other private airline without facing charges of benefitting them?” asked an AI insider.
Senior IAS officer Rajiv Bansal, who was given additional charge as AI chairman for three months in August-end, when Lohani was moved to the Railway Board, said he would not be immediately able to comment on the proposal. “This is the first time I am hearing of such a thing. There is difference in train and air fares…” he said.
With the proposal, Lohani, a 1980-batch Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers officer, had used his experience with the railways to rid AI of one of its most vexing problems: low aircraft occupancy. Around the same time that he came up with the train-air switch idea, AI had also decided to match Rajdhani AC-II fares on important metro routes like Delhi to Mumbai.
AI insiders said the airline’s focus currently was to safely run its flights on time till a new owner is found.