PIA led the way by offering heavily discounted tickets for those flying from and to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Islamabad: As the airlines are gradually resuming regular passenger operations worldwide with safety measures after months of shutdown, following the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistanis have one more reason to travel — at least on domestic routes.

The country’s national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and other private airlines, such as Air Blue and Serene Air, have reduced their fares to as low as Rs7,799 (less than $50 or less than Dh184) in the face of a sharp fall in demand. This comes in the backdrop of the heavy losses that the aviation industry has suffered globally.

PIA led the way by offering heavily discounted tickets for those flying from and to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore — with fares pegged as low as just Rs9,572. The move compelled the two private players — Air Blue and Serene Air — to slash their prices by more than 50 per cent to attract the passengers.

‘Air travel is as cheap as train travel’

A few Pakistanis took to social media to share their surprise and excitement that airfares, for the first time in Pakistan, were equivalent to train tickets. “What a time to be alive,” wrote Dawar Butt on Twitter, comparing the cost of air travel with train and bus travel. “Lahore to Karachi by air is Rs6,800, by rail is Rs6,600 and by road is Rs9,900” he tweeted.

Air travel from Lahore to Karachi takes about an hour and 40 minutes, while the fastest and best train, Green Line, takes 16-18 hours. Road travel would take around 12-13 hours to cover a distance of about 1,200km between the cultural city of Lahore and the coastal city of Karachi.

‘Pleasantly surprised’

“I was pleasantly surprised to see air travel rates become comparable with train travel. With similar rates and much shorter travel time, people will always prefer to take flights for travel between major cities,” Ali Amjad, a resident of Islamabad and a frequent traveller, told Gulf News. However, he said, this dip in prices “is most certainly temporary and will soon be back up as life comes back to normal” after the pandemic.

Speaking to Gulf News, Abdul Rehman Agha, marketing director at Bestways Travels, said: “It is definitely welcoming news as it will help increase domestic air travel, which had been drastically reduced due to the pandemic as airlines were charging higher fares of up to Rs22,000 ($130) for one-way.” He added that the lower airfares would play a huge role in boosting domestic tourism as the pandemic slows down.

However, aviation expert Noor Abbas Mirza considers it just a temporary incentive. “It is just an attempt by airlines to break the market segment and there will be a gradual rise in air tickets soon” he said.

Why airline ticket price suddenly dropped?

The primary reasons behind the sudden dip in the price of domestic air tickets include dwindling passenger numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the deteriorating reputation of local airlines after the May 22 PIA crash in Karachi and suspension of several pilots over “dubious licences” resulting in the loss of customer confidence.

Comparison of tickets and flights

Gulf News compared the air ticket prices of three airlines, PIA, Air Blue and Serene Air, for July 14, from Islamabad to Karachi, and learned that hand luggage-only local flights were the cheapest. Domestic air tickets with baggage that now costs around Rs9,000 to Rs9,376 for a one-way flight, used to be between 16,000-22,000 before.