March 24, 2023

Covid: Curbs relaxed globally, regular international flights likely to resume in a month – Times of India

NEW DELHI: Regular international flights which were suspended in March 2020 are likely to resume in a month. It is learnt that the aviation ministry has taken this up with health ministry and is tentatively looking at March 15 or next month-end when the summer schedule kicks in.
This will be a big relief for travellers as relaxed quarantine and testing norms globally post easing of Omicron has pushed the demand for travel. However, due to limited air bubble flights, fares have skyrocketed for this summer.
Special passenger flights have been functioning between India and around 40 countries since July 2020 under air bubble arrangements.
Delhi-based former banker Richa Gupta has been wanting to book flights to go to the US this summer and be with her son who is studying in Boston. “The fares currently are Rs 1.07 lakh return in an American airline’s economy. Last January, we booked this for Rs 60,000 return. In December, our son flew to Delhi and back for Rs 1.6 lakh when Omicron was at its peak. Now that the situation is improving, that should be reflected in fares too,” Gupta said.
“Announcing the dates for reopening will allow airlines to gradually put more flights in the booking system. Once that happens, the increase supply will mean lower fares,” said an airline official.
The UK, for instance, is one of the markets witnessing sharp hikes in fares due to pent-up demand caused by lifting of restrictions there.
Anil Kalsi, a leading Delhi-based travel agent, said, “With the UK removing Covid-related tests and quarantine restrictions, there is a surge of reservations from India. The fares have shot up by as much as 50%. In the short term, seats are selling for as much at over Rs 1.2 lakh in economy class.”
Scheduled international flights were suspended on March 23, 2020. They were supposed to see a gradual resumption from December 15, 2021, but the surge of Omicron cases did not allow it to happen. The travel industry hopes that India restarts regular flights on a reciprocal acceptance of each other’s vaccination certificates without further delay.
“We were expecting this to happen last August-September when the Delta variant had subsided. However, it was delayed so much that by the time it was supposed to happen, Omicron had set in. We should not lose this window now,” said an airline official.
The December 15 shelved reopening had put countries in three different categories for a graded return to normalcy — ranging from 100% of pre-Covid level to 50% depending on whether a country is at risk or not.
From February 14, 2022, India removed the ‘at risk’ categorisation and replaced that with a list of countries and region from where fully vaccinated passengers can fly in without pre-departure testing. The requirement of mandatory seven-day home quarantine and the need to undertake an RT-PCR test on the eighth day was also done away with. With these rules being relaxed, the next logical thing is to resume regular flight. That may finally happen soon now.

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