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Sun 9 Feb 2014 01:12 PM

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Anger over first Saudia fare hike in 15 years

Saudi national carrier will add a 3% charge to flights booked within 10 days of departure in its first increase since gov’t set prices in 1999

Anger over first Saudia fare hike in 15 years

Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) will increase some ticket prices for the first time in 15 years, angering residents who claim they are already too expensive.

The airline said it would add a 3 percent surcharge to tickets purchased within 10 days of departure in the carrier’s first price hike since the government set fares at a fixed price.

“Ticket prices on Saudia have not changed over the last 15 years. We will only charge a 3 percent increase on the original fare for passengers who book their tickets within 10 days of their departure,” Saudi public relations executive Abdullah Al Ajhar was quoted as saying by Arab News.

“We have specified a 10-day period for fare hikes in order to give passengers an opportunity to book their tickets at the original prices set by the government.”

But travellers who took to social media website Twitter complained that prices already were unaffordable.

“The two operating airlines in the Kingdom are already expensive and we can barely afford these fares. Why would they increase their prices without improving services in return?” Twitter user Mohammed Siraj said, according to Arab News.

“If Saudia were offering better entertainment, better catering or even improved services on board their flights, the price hikes would at least be justified.”

A typical return fare between Riyadh and Jeddah – about 1 hour, 45mins flying time – booked one month in advance costs SAR280 ($75). That compares to fares between Dubai and Kuwait City – which is the same flying time – at $110-135, according to skyscanner.net.

Flights on the popular pilgrim route between the Islamic city of Medina and Indian capital Mumbai, start at SR1390 ($370) on Saudia, compared to $379 on one of the UAE carriers.

Saudi travel agencies said the price increase would not negatively affect business.

“Saudia is the national carrier and people have no other choice but to book their flights through this airline, especially for travelling [domestically],” travel agent Jalal Abduljaleel was quoted as saying.

“Price hikes will have no impact on us because there are only two airlines for people to choose from for travelling within the kingdom. [But] this, in fact, may harm the airline itself when passengers turn to the competitor for better prices.”

Presently there are only two airlines operating domestic services in the kingdom – Saudia and privately owned Nasair.

The Saudi aviation authorities are working to open up the industry, including granting licences to two new players who are expected enter the market this year – Saudi Gulf Airlines, which is owned by a private Saudi business, and Al Maha Airlines, a subsidiary of Qatar Airways.

Regulatory reforms also are underway to remove protectionist laws and create a more level playing field between government and non-government airlines, while Saudia also is being gradually privatised, with two units already sold and another two expected to launch initial public offerings next year.

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