NEW DELHI: West Bengal will now allow domestic flights from Delhi and Mumbai 3 days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — from January 5 instead of 2 days as decided earlier.
During the second wave in April-May, the state had imposed similar curbs on flights from some states.
However, since only people with a genuine reason to travel do so during Covid surges, restrictions like these only mean higher expense and travel time for passengers. They are forced to travel one stop — say instead of Delhi/Mumbai-Kolkata direct, Delhi/Mumbai-Lucknow-Kolkata — on the restriction days.
The same is happening now.
Try booking a ticket from Delhi or Mumbai to Kolkata on one of the days when direct flights aren’t allowed, and airlines are giving one-stop flights.
A direct Delhi-Kolkata flight takes under two hours and costs about Rs 5,000 in economy class. Booking a ticket from Delhi to Kolkata for January 13, a Thursday when non-stops are not allowed, the airline websites give the options of travelling via other cities.
The fastest option is via Lucknow with travel time of 5 hours and ticket cost of over Rs 7,000. The other options are via Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Varanasi, Ranchi and Gaya with total travel time — two flights and transit time at the stopover — of upto 11 hours and costs upto Rs 11,000. Same is the case from Mumbai.
Union aviation secretary Rajiv Bansal had on Sunday (January 2) requested West Bengal to reconsider its decision of not allowing flights from Delhi and Mumbai five days a week on the grounds that it would only inconvenience people.
State additional chief secretary B P Gopalika on Tuesday replied to Bansal, saying: “…the matter was reviewed. State government is extremely sensitive towards the inconvenience that may be caused… but restrictions are absolutely essential for containment of Covid cases in the state.”
This letter conveyed the decision to allow flights on three days in a week, instead of two. Clearly, Delhi could not get Bengal to change its rule, unlike the luck it had with another opposition-ruled state.
In the initial Omicron days, Maharastra laid down a rule that domestic flyers from other states will be allowed only with a negative RT-PCR report. This was withdrawn when the Centre pointed out the same was not in consonance with India’s overall Covid management plan.
Bengal has stopped direct flights from the UK, affecting Air India’s once-weekly London-Kolkata flight.
A senior airline official said: “Disallowing domestic flights from some cities 3-4-5 days a week is not understandable. Requirements like RT-PCR negative report or fully jabbed certificates from travellers are necessary. If anywhere, you will find majority of people observing Covid etiquette — except overcrowding which is not in passengers’ control — at airports and inflight. Bengal rule defies logic just like political parties treating Coronavirus as a nocturnal creature by holding mega rallies during day in the time of night curfews.”
“The winter holiday season is coming to an end and a large number of people are affected by Bengal’s decision who had to take connecting international flights from Delhi and Mumbai to return to their homes or work abroad. Foreign airlines have code shares with Indian carriers under which passengers travel between, say, Amsterdam or New York, and Delhi/Mumbai; and from there to and from Kolkata. A large number of such passengers are trying to figure out what to do now,” said anther airline official.