IndiGo said on Sunday that all flyers would have to pay for web check-in, though check-in at airports would still be free. On Monday, it clarified that flyers won’t have to pay for all seats, only those that offer more facilities. Mint looks at IndiGo’s decision and the reasons for it.

Why do airlines charge extra for seats?

Airlines, especially no-frills ones, charge passengers extra for preferred seats and services. These include seats with extra legroom, food, extra baggage allowance and faster checkouts. Low-cost carriers in India often work on wafer-thin margins, considering their inability to raise airfare much as a result of intense competition. Such additional fees, therefore, help to boost an airline’s ancillary revenue. Meanwhile, high aviation fuel prices and a weak rupee in the last few quarters have hurt airlines, leading to huge losses. Airlines are looking for ways to increase their revenue and thus strengthen their finances.

How will this affect passengers?

Many flyers prefer web check-in to avoid long queues at airport check-in counters. It is also an easy and hassle-free way to board a flight with minimum wastage of time. Considering that flyers are price-sensitive, many would not want to pay extra for web check-in. As IndiGo has drawn flak on social media over the move, passengers may choose airlines that don’t demand too much from them. But they should brace for more cost-cutting and revenue-optimizing moves from airlines. Recently, Jet Airways cut lounge access for a section of its flyers. Air India has stopped serving non-vegetarian meals on domestic flights.

How has the government responded?

The government has said that it is reviewing IndiGo’s decision. The civil aviation ministry tweeted it had noted that airlines were charging flyers for web check-in of all seats.

What has IndiGo said?

IndiGo has said there is no change in its web check-in practice. “Keeping in mind consumer preferences and market demand, IndiGo makes dynamic decisions about pricing for advance seat selection. This segmentation helps us to serve different customer segments as per their requirements," said the airline. While seats would be assigned for free to a customer who checks in at the airport, there is “no guarantee that seats of choice... will be available at the time of airport check-in", added the carrier.

What’s the global practice on charging flyers for check-ins?

Globally, several airlines, especially no-frills carriers, have pushed flyers to use self check-in counters, instead of the airport check-in counters. Several low-cost airlines charge passengers for using airport check-in counters to print board passes and even tickets. No-frills airlines work on lowering costs due to their ultra-thin margins. So, they have been looking at opportunities to further monetize services to strengthen their balance sheets.