Fly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for Rs 3,235 from Friday onwards!
India's first low-budget international airline -- Air India Express -- began its maiden flight on Friday morning at rates so low that another fare war may soon be in the offing.
The inaugural flight, which took off from Kerala's capital of Thiruvananthapuram, carried Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, some legislators, other VIPs, media men and passengers.
Air India Express has started off with three Boeing 737-800s, which will operate 43 flights per week. The flights will be to Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Dubai and Salalah, from Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Mumbai and Delhi.
On Friday, flights took off from Kochi and Kozhikode as well.
"This is going to be a great service to millions of Indians working abroad. This is a truly low-cost global airline from India," said Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy before he boarded the first flight to Abu Dhabi at 8.40 a.m.
The low-budget airline is expected to be a boon to more than three million Indians who are working across various Gulf countries.
Air India Express's ticket rates are considerably cheaper than the fares charged by conventional international carriers. A Delhi-Abu Dhabi one-way ticket on Air India Express costs Rs 6,632, which is about 25 to 30 per cent cheaper than the fares on other airlines.
V Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director of Air-India, said that it will be cheaper now to fly to the Gulf countries rather than to fly within the country.
For instance, one-way fares on the Thiruvananthapuram-Dubai/Abu Dhabi sector starts from Rs 3,235.
"The fares would not be fixed and would vary from day to day and from seat to seat," Thulasidas said. As the date of the departure approaches, the discount offered would decrease. One-third of the 180 seats would be available for the lowest fare.
In the first phase, Air India Express would operate 43 flights to various destinations in the Middle East. Of these, 31 would be from three airports in Kerala. While there would be three flights a week from Thiruvananthapuram, there would be seven flights each from Kochi and Kozhikode.
Future plans of Air India Express would be flights to Bahrain, Bangkok, Doha, Kuwait, Kuala Lumpur, Sharjah and Singapore. Plans are afoot to introduce flights from more Indian cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
It was not just the cheap global fares that were quickly noticed on Air India Express. The body of the Boeing aircraft was painted with traditional Indian art, music and symbols. And the tails depicted different appealing images.
While images of the caparisoned elephant from Kerala and a resplendent camel from the Pushkar Mela of Rajasthan have been splashed on the tail one aircraft, the second aircraft displayed Indian motifs such as a multicolored kite and a glittering Rangoli design on either side of the tail.
The third plane has symbols of Indian music, a tabla on one side of the tail and a sitar on the other.
Truly Indian culture has now begun flying abroad on a truly cheap airline, said officials.
Officials expect the launch of the Air India Express will provide a considerable boost to the number of passengers travelling to the Gulf countries.
In 2003-04, some 2.4 million passengers travelled to the Gulf using Air-India and Indian Airlines flights.