Check-ins at airports will be free. IndiGo’s lowest seat fee is Rs 100 and SpiceJet’s Rs 99. Passengers earlier paid exra fees only for select seats, like along the aisle, window-facing or with additional legroom, if they checked in online.
Mumbai-based low cost carrier Go Air is still offering some seats for free. Full service airlines like Jet Airways, Vistara said they don't charge for seat selection.
IndiGo and SpiceJet’s decision comes at a time when airlines are struggling with rising costs but can't afford to raise ticket fares due to competition.
As per our revised policy, all seats will be chargeable for web check-in. Alternatively, you may check-in at the airport for free. Seats will be assigned as per the availability. ~Prabh— IndiGo (@IndiGo6E) November 25, 2018
Such charges will help to boost ancillary revenue of the airlines. Ancillary revenue consists of charges like baggage fees, seat selection fees, cancellation charges.
"Based on our customer preference we have made some changes in pricing for advance selection of seats. This is a usual practice followed by airlines globally and across India," IndiGo said in a statement.
Experts said that airlines were free to charge for the online check-in service as aviation regulator DGCA has allowed unbundling of services. "Airlines are not in violation of law. According to rules, they can charge of such services," said Lalita Bhasin, partner at law firm Bhasin & Co.
Delhi High Court had earlier this year set aside a DGCA move which fixed Rs 100 per kg as extra luggage fee of 15-20 kg on private airlines. The court had said that DGCA did not have the jurisdiction to fix tariff and this power lies with the airlines, and fares were determined by the market forces.
The move of the airlines were however, received with shock and anger from flyers who tagged civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu and his deputy Jayant Sinha on Twitter and urged to stop the practice.
"Charging for seats is fair but not giving an option to have free seats is not good business practice," said Manoj Jain, a Delhi-based frequent flyer.
Sinha didn't reply to a SMS query over the issue.
Flyers also said that this will lead to increased congestion at major airports like Delhi and Mumbai as more people will now turn up in airport counters for check-in.
This in turn will also increase the burden for airlines at airports forcing them to increase check-in counters and hire more people. "All IndiGo web-check in are charged now. I thought Do It Yourself was the way forward for business," Paytm boss Vijay Shekhar Sharma said.
Globally major airlines are taking steps to push more flyers to do web check-in. UK-based RyanAir charges passengers for printing boarding card at airport check-in counters to push more flyers to do self online check-in.