Like many carriers, SriLankan Airlines has been carrying out a number of rescue flights in recent weeks in order to repatriate its citizens stranded overseas. Today, the airline has hit back after taking some flak for the cost of its special flights.
What’s the problem?
Many of SriLankan’s rescue flights have been to and from neighbouring India, where hundreds of Sri Lanka’s citizens have been studying.
According to The Leader, students have been charged “inflated” prices, such as LKR 58,650 (USD 305) for a one-way ticket from Mumbai to Colombo (a regular return ticket would cost around LKR 45,000, or USD 230).
Flights from Amritsar to Colombo are said to have cost over LKR 100,000 (USD 520).
Adding salt to the wound, The Leader claims the government (not passengers) paid for a group of students to return from Wuhan in China, from where the coronavirus originated.
SriLankan Airlines defends its pricing
SriLankan Airlines has today defended its charges, pointing out that some of its rescue flights have been operating less than half full.
It claims to be incurring high landing, parking and ground handling fees at airports where it doesn’t have regular service contracts, such as Kathmandu and Amritsar.
SriLankan adds that its special repatriation flight are operated under special covid-19 operational procedures, with extra expenses incurred by the use of Personal Protective Equipment for staff, as well as deep cleaning and procedures to disinfect aircraft.
That’s not the end of the story, however, as SriLankan said it had to carry fuel from Colombo for the return journey, pay for catering services and organize standby ground services for “any unforeseen emergency”.
All this leads SriLankan to conclude:
“These main operating costs are beyond the control of the airline and are incurred despite lower cabin factors. When the total cost is divided among lesser number of passengers, the per-passenger cost is substantially higher. At a time when the global airline industry is at a shutdown, SriLankan Airlines rose to the occasion where the staff of the airline including operating pilots, cabin crew, ground handling staff, planners and many others behind the scenes were risking the safety of their lives and families to operate a humanitarian flight that did not have a commercial objective. It is in this respect the airline had to quote fares that were purely based on costs for the special repatriation flight unlike general market fares that are based on market dynamics.”
Some passengers are obviously unhappy about paying more than the cost of a return ticket for their one-way journey, though in reality one-way flights are rarely half the price of a standard round-trip.
LKR 100,000 sounds like a lot of money for a student to spend on a one-way economy flight from Amritsar to Colombo, and I can understand why they would be upset if their peers were ferried home from Wuhan for free.
At the same time, this isn't a money-spinner for SriLankan since rescue flights usually operate empty on one leg of the journey.
How do you feel about SriLankan’s pricing for its rescue flights?