At the time, air travel within India meant Indian Airlines. (If you can imagine). There was also no convenient web, so she had to call Indian Airlines to reserve seats for me on the three flights: Bombay to Madras in four days, Madras to Vizag about three days later, Vizag to Bombay another three days after that.
That evening, she had my tickets for me. I remember exactly what I paid because for some reason I preserved her bill for years. For all three flights, a total of Rs 1365.
It was a fun trip, and included both a near-accident with a APSRTC bus and a demand by its bus driver that I expose the film in my camera. Those stories, another time. Also, food of sorts was served on all three flights.
This morning something reminded me of that trip. Idly, I decided to check what it would cost me to do it today, in this era of e-tickets and "discount" or "low-cost" airlines. Same constraints: fly four days from now to Chennai, three days after that to Vizag, another three days after that back here to Bombay. I punched in all these details into my nearest online booking engine and selected the cheapest option (of dozens offered) each time.
The flights it gave me: Bombay to Chennai on Air India Express. Chennai to Vizag on Kingfisher Red. Vizag to Bombay on Jet Konnect. "Discount" airlines all.
The total for all three flights: Rs 12182.
In 21 years, the cost for this three-flight trip has risen from Rs 1365 to Rs 12182, a factor of 8.92.
Of course there has been inflation all through that time. Does inflation account for this rise in the cost of flight tickets? Well, on this page, I learn that between 1969 and 2010, "the average inflation rate in India was 7.99 percent." Apply 21 years of that rate to Rs 1365, you get Rs 6858.
Today's ticket price, Rs 12182, is nearly twice that amount.
Ah, you say, but 7.99 is the average since 1969. Perhaps inflation has been generally higher than that in the years since 1990? Well, that's a fair assumption. On this page, I found a table listing year-by-year inflation rates from 1980. Take the numbers from 1990 onwards and apply them to Rs 1365: you get Rs 9500.
Today's ticket price, Rs 12182, is nearly Rs 2700 greater than that amount.
Every time I hear one of those nonchalant claims about how the cost of air travel in India has dropped since the coming of competition for Indian Airlines, yes every time, I think of numbers like these: Rs 1365, Rs 6858, Rs 9500, Rs 12182.
And then I know just what those nonchalant claims are worth.
As an aside, for Rs 1365 to rise to Rs 12182 in 21 years, inflation would have had to be just under 11 percent in every one of those years.
As another aside, I have not included in the Rs 12182 the amounts I'd have to pay for food of sorts on those flights today, compared to zero in 1990.
As a third aside, if your reaction to this is "So you want to return to the days of lousy IA service?" please spare me. That's not the point here.