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Say goodbye to your air ticket
Anjuli Bhargava
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June 06, 2008

If you still have a foil of an old self carbonised air ticket - the kind that used to be issued when we were growing up and the only kind your grandmother would recognize - preserve it. You can show it to your children to whom the concept will be as alien as the piece of paper itself.

From June 1st - the day that IATA has asked for mandatory shift over to e-tickets globally - airlines the world over, including in India, are expected to issue only paperless tickets for travel.

In India, almost all ticketing is already done electronically (close to 97 per cent, according to IATA data). Among some of the top airlines who have already achieved total e-ticketing are Air India, Jet Airways [Get Quote], Kingfisher and JetLite. Many of the low cost airlines started out with e-tickets anyway. The airline industry is expected to save $ 3 billion annually by the switchover. Issuing an e-ticket will cost $ 1 instead of $ 10 on an average, helping airlines cut costs.

For an air traveler, there are many advantages of receiving and printing your tickets electronically. One of the biggest is the trouble avoided when you lose one. I don't know if you remember, but in the era of the old ticket foils, losing your ticket meant nothing short of hell. If it was a domestic ticket, no refunds were given against a lost ticket. You simply had to buy a new ticket and then travel. Essentially, your money went down the drain. If however you later happened to find your lost ticket, you could claim a refund but not without fretting and fuming over it for many days.

The process of a refund took several days and meant several trips, phone calls and subsequent reminders by either you or your travel agent to the airline's office. This was primarily because the air ticket was essentially a contract document between the airline and the passenger. For the carriage contract to manifest itself, it had to be physically present.

If you lost an international ticket, you were thankfully not forced to waste the money but could get a new ticket issued against a kind of indemnity bond, which was so complicated a procedure that by the time you had gone through it, you'd lose the urge to travel. Now you no longer have to worry about the loss of the ticket. All one needs to do is remember the PNR number, which many airlines will SMS to your mobile. This is a huge advantage when traveling with say a family of four or five members.

Instead of carrying and keeping track of 5 ticket foils, all you carry is one single sheet of paper with each member's travel details on it. If you lose the paper, it only means another print out and no additional charges. Similarly, if you have a ticket for say five sectors but don't use one, getting a refund will be that much easier and quicker.

Another thing that this will help avoid is ticket frauds that would take place especially from countries with currency outflow restrictions. What happened in the old days was that people from several African countries (a senior Air India official tells me that it was a common occurrence from Lagos in Nigeria) would get say 50 tickets issued in the name of various people they knew for journeys from Lagos to various destinations. Then the person would travel with these tickets to, say, Dubai and sell the unused coupons by getting them re-issued. The person who actually bought the ticket for use would pay the money to the seller. In this way, the money would be taken out of the country violating foreign currency regulations.

Once the new system settles down - it is likely to have some initial teething troubles - besides reducing costs, airlines will face less delay in receiving their money and so their cash flow positions should also improve. Gone will be the days of IATA's London clearing house squaring off the debits and credits on a weekly basis. So, there will be no time lag between the airline flying the passenger and getting its money for the service rendered.

There is only one category of people who are not too happy with the new system. And that predictably is the travel agent. As more and more people use the internet to book tickets directly or go to Internet cafes and book and print out their tickets, the importance of the travel agent has been diminishing.

Now it will go down even further as airlines stop or reduce the stock of tickets available through a travel agent. Earlier, airlines gave the travel agents close to a month of credit. So, the travel agent could hold the money, earn interest on it and generally had a better cash flow position.

Now, the agents will no longer hold the stock of tickets and airlines increasingly don't want to pay the agent's commission. In fact their very survival in some of the more traditional tasks done by them is under threat. Just as the world has now said goodbye to the paper airline ticket, the day may not be far when it may be saying goodbye to the travel agent as your grandmother knew him.

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