IRCTC Air: Book Flight Tickets on the Railways Site [Review]

A couple years ago, a Spice Jet ad displayed on the IRCTC site went viral. It was wondered if promoting  air travel was in the best interests of IRCTC, given that its core business was a competitive means of travel and no-frills airlines sold rather inexpensive air tickets.

At least then.

Indian Railway Catering and Touring Corporation has launched their own flight-booking portal on the subdomain air.irctc.co.in, and my first impression was, are these guys capable of handling the load?

The irctc.co.in website completely dies during the peak times, aka, Tatkal-booking-time, and it is completely impossible for a poor mortal to book a Tatkal ticket. Though airlines do not have an equivalent peak booking time, I am still wary of the load-handling-capacities of the sarkari subsidiary.

IRCTC Flight Booking

IRCTC Flight Booking

As we’ve been posting periodically, IRCTC payment gateway transactions have been really underperforming, with the failure rate between 27% and 31%. This, if propagated to air bookings, will be a big bummer. Not only that air travellers are generally less accommodating, they have other options available to book from.The air.irctc.co.in, or IRCTC Air, as I like to call it, has been designed really well and provides a smooth UX (minimalistic no-frills clean interface).

The results are sorted in increasing order of price, but there is no means of sorting by other headers like the departure/arrival times and the duration of the flight, something which is probably not used much in the price-sensitive Indian market, but cannot be omitted out completely. What it does have is a Departure filter (in addition to a Price filter) on the left, that one can drag to look for flights originating within a certain period in the day.

The booking is rather simple in three easy steps: choose your flight, enter passenger details, and pay. Similar to rail bookings, payment gateway charges are to be borne by the customer. The only glitch, once you have reached a particular step, there is no going back. If you want to change the flight once on the traveller details page, or add a passenger if you are on the payment step, you have to start all over again.

One relief, refreshing the page or pressing the browser back button does not log you out, unlike IRCTC, though your existing login credentials at IRCTC would work here as well. Also, you are not asked for your password again and again on various screens.Currently the service caters to only Jet Airways, Kingfisher (of the not-so-good times now), and the state-owned Air India. Interestingly, Spice Jet, whom IRCTC had been advocating since some time, has been left out. Perhaps in the process.

With increasing traffic in our trains, it has become increasingly difficult to get a ticket. I booked a ticket in Rajdhani 2.5 months ago, still got a waitlisted ticket (W/L 4), that did not clear up till the chart was made. And I could not book a Tatkal ticket in time, and had to fly instead. Perhaps IRCTC knows of this (non) conversion, and the air-travel booking site means it provides another option to you from within the system. I can only imagine IRCTC showing up a link on your waitlisted train ticket’s PNR status page, that takes you to the Air, with all your details filled up from the train ticket.

IRCTC works because it has a monopoly, a luxury IRCTC Air will not have. It will be interesting to see how the pie crumbles. The current version of the site provides a good experience, but the IRCTC Air Pro will have to improve on a certain aspects. Interesting times ahead. For the aviation industry, OTAs, and Indian Railways.

What do you say? Will you remain loyal to your favourite OTA or will you flock to IRCTC Air?

Update: The flight ticketing service was launched by IRCTC 2 years back, though the service was mostly inactive and till yesterday, the air.irctc.co.in wasn’t throwing up results (works fine this morning onwards).