Brokers selling Nepal Airlines’ Khotang tickets

Kathmandu, August 14 :

While people of Khotang living in the capital are having a tough time purchasing air tickets to go home, Nepal Airlines Corporation’s (NAC) airplanes flying to Lamidanda, the only operational airport in the remote district, are often half empty.

The NAC issues tickets for only nine seats for the 19-seat plane, while the rest of the seats are ‘reserved.’ According to Sumitra Joshi, the officer in charge of the domestic sales at the airlines, two seats are reserved for government employees, one for a tourist, one for an ATC officer from the Civil Aviation and one for a staff of the corporation.

“We carry only 14 passengers in a flight to remote places as the plane also has to carry reserve fuel,” she said. Her argument is, however, not convincing, as 13 seats are given to passengers leaving the city for Bhojpur and Okhaldhunga also.

Passengers claim that tickets of the ‘reserved’ seats are sold to brokers, who later sell them for a hefty sum. A one-way Kathmandu-Lamidanda ticket costs Rs 1,960, but the brokers sell it for Rs 2,500. Joshi, however, expressed ignorance about the thriving ‘black market’ on the office premises.

A broker today offered to sell tomorrow’s ticket to Lamidanda to this reporter. “You seem to be in need of a ticket to Lamidanda. Which day would you like to fly?” Raju Rajbhandari asked this reporter who was standing in front of the counter. After this reporter told Raju that he needed it for August 20, the latter gave the reporter his mobile phone number and asked him to call later.

Getting a ticket for Lamidanda is a tough task. A passengers’ list is made and pasted on the office wall. Every passenger has to report to the office every day for a roll call that is conducted twice a day. If one misses the roll call, he/she misses the ticket too. “I prefer to pay an extra Rs 500 rather than attend the roll call at odd hours,” said Prabin Shrestha, of Khotang.

The reserved seats are always vacant. An official of the corporation said on condition of anonymity staffers of the civil aviation or the NAC never board the flight. “We always have three crew members in a flight — two pilots and a steward.” Bhairab Rai, another native of Khotang, was surprised to know about extra NAC or civil aviation staffers also boarding flights. “She must be joking. I have never seen anyone except the crew members on board,” he said.