Air travel bubble takes flight even as demand tapers due to entry curbs

Unlike normal times when airlines publish schedule for a season, a limited number of flights are being approved in phases under the travel bubble
Airlines from France, Germany, and the US can now ferry passengers to and from India amid a tapering of demand due to ongoing travel restrictions and return of over 60,000 citizens to India from these countries.

Air France and United have already commenced bookings for travel from Paris and Newark to India, while Lufthansa is yet to open inbound sales after the government cleared bilateral air travel bubbles with the three countries last week.

While airlines from these countries operated repatriation flights for European and US citizens, they were not allowed to carry passengers to India. This has changed with the lauch of the air travel bubbles.

Like Air India, these airlines, too, will have to adhere to Indian regulations, share passenger lists with Indian embassies, and secure no objection clearance from states for their inbound flights.

There are also restrictions on who can travel to Europe or the US. For instance, Europe is not allowing leisure travellers from India. Except in certain cases, an Indian passport holder will not be able to travel to the US via Frankfurt or Paris on these flights.

Unlike normal times when airlines publish schedule for a season, a limited number of flights are being approved in phases under the travel bubble. As of now Air France, Lufthansa, and United have got approval to operate flights till July-end.

"The demand for travel from the US is tapering. Only essential travel is happening and no one is travelling for leisure," said an Air India executive.

On the outbound sector, most of the demand is from green card holders or US citizens. Students are expected to travel from August onwards.

On the Europe-India sector, too, demand is lower, compared to April or May, another source said.

Lufthansa, however, said the demand from Indians is high and the airline is currently assessing the new rules and regulations set by the Indian government for foreign airlines intending to operate flights to India. Air India did not respond to a query till the time of going to press.

Over 650,000 Indians have returned to the country since May on flights operated by Air India, private and foreign airlines, naval ships and those crossing land borders.

Air India has flown in over 200,000 - half of them came from West Asia. Over 60,000 of them returned from the US, Canada, and Europe. The national carrier has also carried over 80,000 passengers from India to various countries - half of them to the US and Canada.

Air India and United are operating additional flights between India and the US after the American government withdrew its order accusing India of discriminating against its carriers and United agreed to follow conditions laid down by the Indian government. The national carrier has announced flights to France and Germany as well.

While the Indian government wants airlines to share passenger details four days prior to departure, United has been given leeway and will be sharing these details closer to departure, it is learnt.

Foreign airline executives point out that submitting passenger details four days in advance is cumbersome and the government could devise better ways of collecting data.

United will operate flights between Newark-Delhi from July 23-28. Passengers travelling on United nonstop from the US to India will be required to complete Indian government's data collection requirement prior to check-in, the airline said. Failure to do so may result in cancellation of travel plans, it added.

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