Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that there is no upper ceiling on air fares as they have been deregulated and premiums are being charged even by Air India for preferred seats of aisle and window since this is a commercial practice. Replying to a question, he said an airline and a passenger enter a commercial contract when the latter books an airline ticket.

Raising the issue during Question Hour, Congress leader Chhaya Verma said she had taken an Indigo flight on 29 June from Delhi to Raipur, and the staff did not upgrade her to the front rows, despite there being vacant seats. Instead, the airline announced that the vacant seats in the front row are available for an additional charge of Rs 600, she said and asked why comfortable seats were kept vacant if there were no passengers.

Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu termed it a “serious issue” and asked the government to probe the matter. “The MP has shared her experience. What happened in this case, prove that. Was there any discrimination? Please inquire,” Naidu told the government.

Observing that preferential seats gave “a feeling of discrimination”, DMK leader Tiruchi Siva said, “Can you do away with this and adopt first-come, first-serve?”

On the issue of substantial hike in airfares close to departure, he said, “At the time of departure of the flight, the fares are increased by 400 per cent. You can allow them to increase fares as per the demand, but not abnormally. Fix a ceiling at least. People who are in a hurry and distress, face a lot of problems.”

Responding to the members’ queries, Sinha said, “The fares have been deregulated. Flight services are provided based on the terms of conditions entered in a commercial contract between a passenger and airline.” However, the government has asked the airlines to maintain transparency and non-discrimination. The minister said national carrier Air India was also selling aisle and window seats at higher rates.

“This is a commercial practice. It is done across the globe. If we have to run properly, then we have to practice this. The middle seat is given at lower rate,” Sinha said. If someone wants comfort, it is up to the passenger to take an aisle, window or a business class seat after paying the premium. The minister claimed that the “airfares in India are the lowest in the world and more affordable if you buy tickets three months prior”.