IndiGo is now making passengers pay to pick even the worst seats on a plane

What next?
What next?
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Desperate times call for desperate measures. First, they took away the free meals, now they’re taking away free web check-ins.

India’s struggling airlines have hit upon an unpopular way to stem the losses caused by months of high international oil prices and a weakening rupee: charging passengers for selecting any seats while checking-in online. On Nov. 25, responding to a customer query on Twitter, IndiGo, India’s largest airline by passengers flown, confirmed that all seats will be chargeable for web check-in, as per its revised policy dated Nov. 14. Checking in at the airport the old-fashioned way remains free, though you’ll have to settle for whatever seat you get.

On its website, IndiGo lists the charges for all seats on its A320 aircraft, ranging from Rs100 for a middle seat in the very last row to Rs800 for extra-legroom spots in the first row. Even the non-reclining seats near the emergency exits cost between Rs100 and Rs200 each. Previously, passengers had to pay only for extra leg-room seats or for seats in the first 20 rows.

SpiceJet, another budget airline and India’s fourth-largest carrier by market share, also has a similar policy, with prices starting at Rs99.

IndiGo has called it a “usual practice followed by airlines globally and across India,” but that hasn’t stopped customers from taking to Twitter to accuse it of “price gouging,” among other unsavoury things. Today (Nov. 26), India’s ministry of civil aviation said that it was reviewing the fees.

But these are testing times for Indian aviation.

IndiGo, Jet Airways, and SpiceJet account for almost 70% of air traffic in the country. But the three posted a combined quarterly net loss of over Rs2,600 crore in the July-September period of this year.

Given the macro-economic conditions—aviation turbine fuel prices have surged over 26% this year, the rupee depreciated to lifetime lows in October, and there is fierce competition in the sector—India’s airlines are in dire need of all the money they can possibly get.

Aviation experts suggest passing on rising costs to customers. But so far, airlines have avoided doing so to protect their market shares. And so, amidst the web check-in policy change, IndiGo itself is also promoting seats on domestic flights at less than the cost of a “Sunday brunch.”