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Booking IRCTC Train ticket via Airtel USSD service

This was said to be coming more than 2 years ago and it has finally come now. Users can now book their train tickets via SMS and USSD codes without the need to have an internet connection. Till now, there were only two ways to book tickets, Internet (via IRCTC or Mobile apps) or offline at railway stations. While booking online is very convenient, it is not a approachable method for the majority of the travellers. Now with SMS/USSD booking, which almost all mobile phones are capable of, travellers have another way to book their tickets.

How to book via airtel money?

As I said, there are two ways to book, one via SMS and two via USSD. At present only airtel subscribers can use the USSD service, via airtel money. Others should use SMS based booking. Both are simple enough but first let’s see how USSD based booking works.

First of all, you will need to make your payment via airtel money. So if you don’t have an airtel money account, create one; It’s simple enough. Next load enough cash in to that account via credit or debit card (Visa and Master Card), Internet Banking (such as SBI, ICICI etc), or ATM cards (Maestro cards). Once your money account is ready proceed to book your ticket.

Dial *400# from your airtel mobile and follow the instructions. Book train tickets by airtel sms

In the first step, you have to select from Reservation, Easy Book, Information services, Cancellation and My Account. Reservation will take you through a long process of selecting station codes (boarding and destination), train number, class of travel etc while Easy Book is sort of a quick book option where you can directly enter the train number if you know it. Cancellation and My Account are self explanatory.

During the process, you will need to enter your IRCTC account username as a one time registration process (yep, IRCTC account is still necessary).

I have to tell you, I have tried booking a sample ticket and it was quite tiresome. Some screen menu’s don’t even have back options so one mistake and you will have to start from the beginning.

Entering passenger names, their age and gender is another tiresome process, especially if you have more than 1 passenger. However, the train search feature is quite efficient.

After you enter your source station and destination station (you don’t need to enter the full station name or the exact station code; just first 3 letters will do) and class of travel, you will be neatly presented with the list of available trains. You can then select a train you want to book from and then you’ll be presented with the current berth availability (note that you can only book tickets under General and Ladies quota at present; no tatkal). When you complete this step, you will be asked to which number should the booking confirmation SMS be sent. You can select your self number or enter any other mobile number. Once this is done, your ticket will be booked.

As said before, you can manage your ticket from the main menu (Again by dialling *400#) by going to My Account or cancellation, if you wish to cancel your booking).

Will SMS/USSD booking be a success?

I simply do not think so. When I first heard of booking via SMS I thought this was going to be hugely beneficial to the masses, who have absolutely no idea about Internet. But sadly, as you may have observed, it still involves so many techie steps that most people will have no idea how to proceed. Airtel money can be loaded offline at some stores but how will one search where those stores are? By going online, sadly or by calling customer care and pressing innumerable number of button to reach a human being and knowing from them.

So what should be done to improve it?

Simply remove the airtel money part. Allow people to pay from their prepaid balance or postpaid account. I know airtel is the first operator to bring the USSD booking but I hope some operator (airtel including) in future allows people to book tickets from their balance. People may not know how to load cash in to their airtel money accounts but they definitely do know how to recharge their prepaid phones. Just think how easy this would be? Massively easy.

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