Airlines can't charge extra for more than 12 seats: Govt

After stopping airlines from charging passengers extra for choosing window and aisle seats, the civil aviation ministry has decided that it will also define the seats for which airlines can charge more as part of the unbundled service system.

The ministry has decided that a flight cannot have more than 12 such preferential seats in a single-aisle aircraft such as Airbus 320 or Boeing 737. It has also decided that even a middle row seat can be among the 12, something it had objected to earlier.

A senior civil aviation ministry official said that a preferential seat should provide something extra and cannot just be any seat. "In a single-aisle aircraft, six seats in the first row and another six in the row behind the emergency seats can be termed preferential as no other seats provide anything extra," the official said.

The mere fact that passengers ask for window or aisle seats does not mean they are preferential, even if they are willing to pay for it, the official added.

So each airline will now have to explain any charge they want to levy and satisfy the ministry, which will issue a notification about this soon, the official added.

Explaining the rationale for the classification of seats by the ministry, an official drew a parallel with the restrictions on pricing tickets. "Allowing the airlines to unbundle services and charge passengers does not mean they can levy a charge on everything. We do not regulate the fares but cannot allow them to make arbitrary changes," said the official.

Airlines, who saw unbundling of services as an opportunity to improve their earnings, feel that such government interference would kill the main aim of allowing airlines to charge for such services.

"The government wanted the base fares to come down and allowed us to unbundle services. Competition drives these prices down but it is unlikely that with so much interference from the ministry base fares will decline," said an airline source who did not want to be identified.

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