Two engineers from the Army Institute of Technology, Pune, Varun Jain and Ravi Kumar, found that about 40,000 seats on domestic flights go vacant every day. In spite of it, more than 5,000 jawans from the Indian armed forces travel in general compartment everyday due to unavailability of seats. Their family members and veterans also face similar problems.
With an aim to solve this problem, Varun and Ravi founded udChalo in 2012, a booking portal which provides discounted domestic flight tickets exclusively for the Indian armed forces, ex-servicemen, dependents, and SSB candidates. This Pune-based platform offers services both offline and online. Their physical counters are present inside Army cantonments, at the SSB and ASC centres in Bengaluru, DIAV in Delhi, BEG Centre in Pune, and MH Kirkee.
The ideation for udChalo started in 2012 with an objective to transfer waitlisted railway passengers to fill the vacant last-minute airline inventory. While working on this, we observed that many Army personnel travel in general compartments due to unavailability of seats in the Railways,” says Varun.
Varun worked for Persistent and is one of the founding members of Tavisca Solutions, a product development company. Prior to starting udChalo, Ravi worked for almost three years in companies like Tata and Dassault.
udChalo has partnered with three airlines (names of the airlines cannot be disclosed due to confidential reasons) and sells over 5,000 seats every day. The founders believe that it is a win-win for both customers and airlines; the airlines can earn incremental revenue and the customers can get an alternative mode of travel.
API integration with airlines
Real-time booking engine udChalo has direct API (application programming interface) of the partner airline and has a two layer verification process on the website, which ensures that only genuine Army personnel book a flight.
On the basis of historical data and current seat filing pattern, airline changes allotted seats to udChalo every day within the allotted RBDs (Reservations/Booking Designator).
The startup has 14 employees out of which three are ex-servicemen from the Indian Army. For offline counters, they have recruited retired Army personnel.
udChalo charges a small fee over the price they get from the airline, which is one to four percent per ticket depending on peak or non-peak season. The revenue growth has been 50 percent month on month.
The startup is in negotiation with other major airlines and is planning to recruit employees with defence background, preferably war widows, war disabled, veterans, and dependents. The aim is also to recruit 70 ex-servicemen by seeking help from AWPO Delhi.
Other plans in the pipeline include opening up of UBC (udChalo booking counters) at 50 places, mostly in far-flung areas and field areas to cater to the need of armed forces personnel who cannot book tickets online. "Since all of us working in udChalo are from a defence background, we know the right channels to approach. We send letter communication to various defence units who inform their troops about the facilities available to them. Apart from that, we are active on social media for our marketing,” says Varun.