India’s dream of ‘world-class’ airports and why I can’t afford it

October 23, 2008

After a two-hour flight sitting a few feet away from four boisterous children who made enough noise to put a marching band to shame, emerging at Hyderabad’s swanky new airport for my first visit to the city proved very soothing for my frayed nerves.

The spacious terminal building, high glass walls, and the view, as you step outside, of palm trees and people leisurely posing for photographs in front of water fountains made me recall chaotic scenes back at Delhi’s airport, as I allowed myself a wry grin.

planeq.jpgMy admiration for what the aviation minister has described as India’s first truly “world-class” airport vaporized when on my return trip, a smiling attendant approached me at the terminal and directed me to a counter that collected 375 rupees from every passenger flying out of the city — courtesy a recently introduced toll called UDF or User Development Fee (International travellers were asked to shell out a thousand rupees).

A UDF is a toll collected by private airport developers to finance in part their project costs, provisions for which were introduced by the government recently with the advent of private players’ participation in development of the country’s airports, although there is no clear policy on how much a developer can charge passengers.

The argumentative Indian that I was, I protested that it seemed absurd to charge passengers so much every time they fly out of the airport, where the most they do is stand in queue to get their boarding passes, maybe use the toilet once and perhaps have a bite at a food joint, which by the way pays money to the airport authorities for operating on the premises.

Besides, I argued, we already paid for our air tickets, which are supposed to include all taxes and service charges. In any case, fees in other areas like road toll or parking charges on vehicles usually amount to double digit numbers, not in the hundreds.

Imagine my dismay when on my return to Delhi, I found out that DIAL, which is developing the capital’s airport, was asking the government’s permission to introduce a similar fee. On further research, I discovered that Bangalore airport already charges UDF and Mumbai airport authorities have also proposed charging the same.

plane.jpgAnd with plans to develop 35 more airports in the country through the public-private partnership model, all major airports in the country could soon be putting up requests for charging UDF on passengers to let them have a “world-class” experience at their terminals.

Not to argue about the larger economics of the costs and strains of building airports, but is directly charging a few hundred rupees from passengers every time they come to the airport fair or even commercially sound in the long term?

For thousands of citizens like me who can claim to see the inside of an airplane only due to the entry of budget airliners, paying so much just to catch our plane doesn’t make much sense (trains are starting to look inviting again).

Yes, we want big and beautiful airports like everyone else, but not by being forced into directly contributing not once but every time we visit the place.

Also, in these times of economic turmoil when consumers are increasingly getting thrifty, levying such a fee could lead to decreasing air passenger traffic with the lower middle class preferring to go, especially for short distances, by road or rail route.

This would directly affect airliners who would be forced to reduce flights, in turn decreasing the income of the airport operator because of decreased landing and parking fees of planes and service charges.

But as I said before, forget about the larger economics or the high-class jet-setters who would keep on flying anyway, is levying a UDF fair on budget travellers like you and I?

39 comments

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I agree with david … I am a software engineer in of the leading software companies in india. Though i might be earning enough to lead a comfortable life in a place like pune .. I do not earn enough to commute regularly using airlines (except for emergencies) ! On the advent of Air Deccan Services , the indian middle class could dream of travelling through air more often . But since the alliance of kingfisher and deccan we got back to our normal routine.
When Air deccan could give us such cheap flights (agreed that their buses weren’t as posh as kingfisher’s , plush services can wait for now !) then why not others ? Why such taxes are being levied unnecessarily. In my opinion , air deccan was a nice way to bring in change in the way indian middle class travelled and gradually with the increase in ecomony , such taxes could have been introduced .. but at this point of time when our economy is in drains such a step is going to backfire on the airline service providers !

As far as i am concerned , i am goin to wait for the next air deccan so that i can again dream of flying to my hometown !

Posted by Radhika Ganesan | Report as abusive

what ever we say and predict about airline economics one thing is quite very sure that its not a game for middle class as of now. Just cause of mismanagement fees structure in INDIA just as UDF and other taxes. So till they learn how to enhance the fees & tax structure more affordable for at least some middle class people. it will be right to say and ask :: Why i can’t fly.??

Why are the courts silent?

Posted by sridhar | Report as abusive

Indians have this habit of making lot of noise for need of improvement everywhere but never want to pay for better services. World class airport charge higher fees. Take Railways, they want superfast, clean trains but don’t want to pay. And Water, when few years back Delhi Govt. wanted to charge bit more for 24 hrs supply, there were protests. Indians need to get out of Socialist mindset. Freebies have killed Indian economy. Look at subsidies. Its absurd. World class airports charge higher fee. It’s everywhere,pay it or stick to travel on those filthy trains.

Posted by Bijan Arora | Report as abusive

that really sucks a$$. i rather not travel out through any airport that charges a grand as UDF. I mean, it takes time and savings to buy a ticket and we have to shell extra at the airport? why isn’t it stated when you buy the ticket? isn’t that like breach of information? Can’t a citizen sue for not disclosing this info?

Posted by Anup Thomas | Report as abusive

Well Said. There must be an end to unrestrained capitalism. Unfortunately, India is blindly moving that way these days. Must learn from the ‘mother of financial crisis’ land, and should correct course soon.

Whilst, I am sympathetic to the middle class (to which I belong too as well) this is not something uncommon. Various Airports charges passengers in various ways. As passengers we do not really know how this is charged because we do not look into the details of the taxes part of our Air Ticket. I know Christchurch Airpot charges a $25 Departing Passenger tax and I am pretty sure there are many such Airports. The point I am making is what Hyd Airport is doing is not uncommon.

If passengers are providing a ceratin amount towards development fee, then that is fine, provided that the passenger is considered as providing capital for the Airport. In effect the passenger becomes a shareholder of the Airport and hence has a right to a share of the Airport dividends or profits. I am sure this idea is worth a discussion.

Posted by Ganesh | Report as abusive

If i want better service i have to pay for it. This is just a simple rule and everyone should understand this and please dont make noises against this. Because nothing comes free in this world. you have to pay for this either this way or that that ( either direct or indirect way). and it is always better if they charge directly, atleast we know that for what we are paying what we should expect in return for this payment

Posted by Virendra | Report as abusive

The concept of the UDF is to bring the world class airport. I do not see anything wrong in that at all. Airports have a competition in “lallu” trains and if the airport company feels that UDF is affecting traffic they would rethink. However, it must be understood by all that good infrastructure always comes at a price. There is no use clamouring for “cheap and best”. Rather than blaming the airport companies, I suggest we should focus on reforming Government, if they were efficient there would have been no need for private sector airports in the first place

Posted by Prakash Nathan | Report as abusive

I personally do not see a reason for the airports to levy a charge on flying out of a city, we do pay them the charges as levies and so called taxes.no one is sure of the reason, all we do is rush to the airport, stand in the queue to collect our boarding pass and run towards the check in baggage counter towards the waiting bus and plane. What do we get out of this excercise that we need to pay UDF.? This toll business is filling the Govt.coffers to read that the airline and AAI is bleeding.

I am a resident of Hyderabad and used the new airport. I think charging a UDF is not a right phenomenon. The developers get thousands of acres of land at discounted prices and have various excise and tax cuts and yet want to charge customers a UDF every time one flies out. I think the greed of the developers is manifesting. Already we have seen that the domestic travelers are down year on year and opening of the new airports has multiplied the cost of flying manifold.

The cost my travel to airport has increased by Rs 1375 from say Rs 500. This sis if I am traveling by car.

I think the government in the garb of development is charging the middle class customers exorbitantly for everything. We now have to pay for roads, airports, metros etc which is the primary responsibility of the government.

We should evolve an India specific model where the charges on the customers are less and generate more volumes. 10 persons into 100 is 1000 but also 100 persons into 10 is also 1000. I think we have enough experts to devise models such as these so they make the services affordable.

Air travel is again going to become a rich man’s privilege.

Posted by Satish | Report as abusive

Yet again India does not learn good practice & ethos from other ‘WORLD CLASS’ airports. Before India builds new airports they should carry out a viability/feasibility analysis. Enough is enough India ! Wake up & ‘smell the coffee’,there are other nations airports in the region which build better airports without charging ‘extra’ fees to passengers who are already feeling the pinch of higher air fares. If you want to lure in-bound tourism from the ‘West’ then start to improve the infrastructure in a structured & rapid way. Get rid of the ‘Babu Culture’, pull out the stops, ‘cut out the red tape’ and cronyism. To even get to an Indian airport is a traumatic experience. Other new build airports factor in a high speed rail link.

Posted by J Welinkar | Report as abusive

I Acceptone point of Mr.Arora , that we need to spend in order to have better services. India figures out on top five countries in Purchasing Power Parity. But Charges in Indian high class services are moving to $ rates. Have you ever had a plate of Idlies in Bangalore airport?? its 150Rs. Isnt this abnormal.We are ready to pay for world class services but that doesnt mean you will sell pebbles at diamond price. What happend to the taxes I paid for roads, electricity, fuel price, house tax etc???? I dont get any of these but private estates of politicians never sees econimic down turn. We Indians are balanced and we shall pay for what its worth. If these airports are charging UDF then they better provide me worldclass facility.And compensate in case they fail to provide such service.

Posted by Shrivathsan | Report as abusive

We do need the infrastructure .. this all will agree on.
Who should pay for it? Obviously this is in disagreement.

There is a cost associated with every enterprise, but every charge must be justifiable and certainly should not be excessive. Who can decide this for us? This I feel is the AAI’s responsibility (applied w/o prejudice and malice of course). Is anyone with me yet?

Frequent fliers too should pay for their fair share shouldn’t they? Why should they be let off by paying less. They use more so they pay more! Fair isn’t it? Why should others pay for frequent fliers just becoz they used the airport less frequently.

Some of you are complaining about spending another $20 … common!Do you prefer they charge the airline instead who will inadvertently add to the charge because of the processing costs involved on their side. Get it now? Still don’t? … go suck a thumb!!!

I agree to an extent with Bijan. Every Indian wants to live a life like in the developed countries, with the best of facilities. But unlike in those countries, a vast majority of us Indians want it free.

Here’s an instance. Indians always complain that Indian railways are filthy, service is very bad etc etc. And are quick to point to Europe where trains are a class apart. What one doesn’t see is the price one is paying for the train services. We in India don’t even pay a half of what it would to travel on trains in Europe. But still we want the same class of service.

Its the same thing with our airports. We want world class airports, but don’t want to contribute. Well then we should not have complained in the first place and should have stuck to the shabby airports that were on offer in the first place.

What I don’t agree with is the amount of UDF being charged per passanger. Rs.375 for domestic passangers and Rs.1000 to fly abroad is high and perhaps that should be lowered. But not paying anything is not going to take us anywwhere.

Posted by Nachiket | Report as abusive

Wow! You guys have been lucky all the time… Now, like the rest of us all over the world, your airports finally caught up and you will have to pay airport tax. And, actually, not even so much, comparing.

375 rupees is roughly $9.50 Canadian. Ive been to airports where the exiting fee is $45 USD. Stop complaining unless you live in the country yourself. Where maybe 375 rupees is a lot of cash for you.

Posted by Jag | Report as abusive

The author needs to get out of his kup-manduk thinking, the world over airports have something called Airport fees, so why not in india?

We get the best facilities only when we are ready to pay for it, otherwise, keep using the ultracheap but filthy Indian railways.

Talking of railways, the trains and tracks of europe are so clean and efficient, because they are able to charge money OR is it the other way around?

Pay money, get honey
No Money, no Honey.

Posted by Amit Ghosh | Report as abusive

Dear David Lalmalsawma,

I am not sure what is with us Indians. We complain about everything others do and never think about doing our part. If every indian paid what they owe for income tax and sales tax most of these projects will be free no matter how much politicians take away.
Get to the reality of life. NOTHING IS FREE IN THIS WORLD. Not even in USA. Here govt is charging 10 dollars per segment as 9/11 fee for increased security which govt should provide anyway…
You should travel abroad first and learn baout what is included in your ticket….
Bob

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

Dream big

A pain to pay with every travel and every terminal is understandably logistic nightmare. However the argument not to charge is with wrong cause. In my view world class service will not come free in dreams. Ideally it has to be a concerted effort of progress from government in its role of family running. Still one has to realise its own responsibility to contribute as well fairly! To blame than for effort of few who would like to serve in a humanly respectable manner rather than an animal style should not be underscored. One should as well try to introspect deep routed cultural issues in such progress as well!

Posted by Rajesh Singhvi | Report as abusive

Look at it this way, have a world class airport but pay for it! Our tax is not as high as European or even American Tax, our mentality is that we want free stuff, and even if we want to pay we want it cheap. How do you afford to build or even sustain a multi-billion project from the government? Especially when the economy is failing? If you want expensive and savvy stuff, pay for it!

Posted by Rahul | Report as abusive

There are two points of contention here – one the charge itself and secondly the way it is charged.

If this cost was rolled into the airline ticket – like most other costs, it would not be so bad – we make the decision to fly based on the final cost and the need. However after reaching an airport, if we have to pay 1000 rupees per passenger or 5000 rupees for a family of 5, that seems to be ridiculously high.

The airport should charge for premium amenities – baggage strollers, lounges, higher cost for food and drink (already being charged), rest rooms, entertainment within airports (pool tables, movies etc), parking and maybe even priority access.

Paying for the building, land and infrastructure should be billed to the airlines, government and the developers who are in business because of it.

Posted by Philip | Report as abusive

The New Middle Class knows only to demand facilities ,but not to pay for them.This is their hang over from the Lower Income days. where subsidy from Kerosene to Public Transport is the order of the day. If they are at least given a Document on which the value of all the subsidies availed on day to day basis is recorded, they would realise the meaning of the welfare State.We should know to grow up and bear the responsiblity of running this country through our contributions. Istead of allowing blanket exemption for all and sundry up to a ceratain Income level, there should be at least a marginal tax levied on all Income levels above Poverty line.It can be even a Token 1%.This tax can be cllected as stamp fee on the receipt.,thus avoiding cumbersome I.T.Returns etc. That would make every earner a Tax Payer and then, we will be finding they will be taking more interest in what the Government is doing on a day to day basis.When such a thing is in vogue, may be people will appreciate the need for Airport Charges.Railway Satations are charging Platform charges even from visitors and the fares are calculated based on a loaded factor for Infrastructue. Nothing is free there.Why grudge the Airports?

Posted by C.S.Radhakrishnan | Report as abusive

Dear fellow Indians, I write this comment to all Indians, Pay your taxes, vote for honest individuals for governance and stop being a charity case for all your lives. Why do Indians all ways extend their hands out and expect things to happen magically.

It is the fault of all Indians that private companies are free to do whatever they want. Where does the government get additional money from to build new infrastructure. I agree a lot of money goes to waste via the corruption route, however, it is us Indians that are responsible for this.

A billion people, and we seem to elect criminals, a billion people who do not want to speak out against corruption. Stop complaining, this is the dawn of a new era, where corporations will run countries, forget your democratic political votes, and buy some shares in these private companies, so that you still have a vote in the new real governments.

Posted by Suresh | Report as abusive

Hi Mr David Lalmalsawma,

I haven’t read all the comments only a few, and those of us who have been living abroad for many years understand that nothing is for FREE, we need to pay if we want some benefit or use of anything. I’m not aware of the average wage in India, but have heard that guys make heaps now as compared to when I was there about 40-yrs ago. Some in the comments above have expressed their views fairly well for those who are still living in India. To give you an example we have to pay about $50/= each way which I think is approx. Rs2,500/= to drive across a bridge a few kilometers long to get to Copenhagen or vice-versa.
If the average Indian is earning pretty well as I’m given to udnerstand, then paying Rs1000/= shouldn’t be considered too high a price. Finally, in all seriousness for me just to get a visa to visit India I was told that I need to pay Rs4000/= so what’s Rs1000/= it appears to be quite reasonable.

Posted by Maurice Robinson | Report as abusive

When will this “I want everything free” mentality change? This is childish. People crib when the airport dirty or small or lacks any facility. But they dont want to pay anything for upkeeping of it. Do you want your airport look like a slum? If you want a airport with facilities then you should be able to pay for it. Government cannot do everything in a country where people dont want to pay TAX, service charge or for that matter anything. They want everything free. People are getting richer but their mindset remains so so cheap.

Posted by Palani | Report as abusive

I do agree with many others here about paying the UDF at airports. However the fee prescribed has to be in the context of the place where the airport is. Because of the purchasing power discrepancy we can’t equate the airport taxes in india to that of the same else where in developed world. Also most cases these new Indian airports don’t prescribe such charges in advance and passengers are forced to pay the taxes at the last minute. A single window policy for paying all your travel related fees is yet to exist for Indian airports.

Posted by Debasis Nanda | Report as abusive

Indian economics dictates that for standard service you must pay – for luxury forget it. We in India have to shell out money for the basic amenities which the western counterparts take for granted – I have never paid in UK to use standard facilities like busports, airports and railway platform tickets. I thought the preamble stated that the country strives to be a socialist but unfortunately in reality it strives to be a die-hard capitalist. What a contradiction.

Posted by kdesarker | Report as abusive

I agree to what Suresh has writen above. It’s time to stand on your own to feet and work hard to get what you want in life.
Where I came from (not giving name of the country I am in) we pay higher taxes on everything food, petrol, gas electrics, and so on….. about 60% of our income go to tax and we have higher fuel and airport tax to pay before we can fly out of the country.
I love India, I have come over good few time’s but not i can’t afford to, due to fuel and airport tax we have to pay here.
So think about what other people in the world have to do if they have to travel by air……
we pay tax when we are born, and we pay tax when we dead……..

Posted by tom | Report as abusive

Well these are just side-effects of privatization!!!

Posted by R S | Report as abusive

Also, the amount is totally UNACCOUNTABLE, hence taxless. No credit cards, debit cards can be used to pay the amount. “Only Cash” as they say.

Only recently I came to know that private companies are provided with thousands of acres of land to develop. I guess, when deals are set between government and private sector on AIrport development, it never mentions any fee to be charged from flying passengers!!!!

Media, please dig into the issue, if politics permits.

Posted by Sagar | Report as abusive

I’ll say it’s best if this UDF or whatever is included in Air fare itself.Or at least the air tickets must say that we need to pay something at airport.That way the traveller or prospective traveller knows everything and is not in for a surprise.

This is called official bribe. You bribe everyone for everything that you want and need. If you don’t want to pay, you can take the proverbial walk.

Posted by Doc Jay | Report as abusive

So, you want world class stuff without contributing anything!

Posted by Girish | Report as abusive

If you want a good facility you got to pay for it. Many airports in the world charge similar fees. For example the newly established Suvannabhum airport in Bangkok charges above 1300 Rs. from each passenger each time they use the airport. If you go to Bangkok, will you make a fuss about it? If not why?

Posted by Tangkhul | Report as abusive

I have travelled to Bangalore couple of times this year and new Bangaloru International airport is excellent and facilities maintained are brilliant. It made lot of people proud right from airport till way out including roads leading to city. Well there are charges applied for the domestic tickets and international which we pay. But this is applied most of airports internationally ,though these charges are hidden in ticket prices by a different word. We can see very well that traffic in air-passengers increased many folds compared to traffic five-six years back. So when people can afford flying why we people grumble for prices to be paid for good services. If you see Delhi domestic airport one will realize how good are services and maintainence in new airports like Bangalore. No lunches are free my dear friends…..

Posted by Arshad Desai | Report as abusive

Probably what irks an average Indian traveller might be the way the new Airport Tax is collected, rather than the amount. Most think that Government or the Corporate Parties always tries to grab much from middle-class anyway.It is partially true in developed countries as well. But what lacks for Indians is the trust on Government or private parties that they charge this UDF for genuine cause. Probably it might take sometime to build such trust.

Posted by Dharma | Report as abusive

And not to mention the $4 they charge at the Sydney Airport for using the trolley to carry your luggage.
Rs.140/- ($4)for using a trolley???!!!!!

Posted by Niranjan | Report as abusive