Coronavirus impact: Indians pack their bags for home

People studying overseas and those on short trips abroad are returning to India ahead of time. Airlines aren’t sure about the impact of the visa curbs. Delta has announced a cut in New York-Mumbai services from five a week to four between April an...

PTI
NEW DELHI: India’s announcement that it will effectively close its border for about a month from Friday has sparked a rush among citizens to get back home over worries about mandatory quarantines and concerns that flights to the country may get cancelled.

The government late on Wednesday suspended “all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organizations, employment, project visas” until April 15 to rein in the spread of Covid-19. The visa-free travel facility for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders has been suspended until the same date. The curbs go into effect at 1200 GMT on March 13 at the port of departure.

People studying overseas and those on short trips abroad are returning to India ahead of time. Airlines aren’t sure about the impact of the visa curbs. Delta has announced a cut in New York-Mumbai services from five a week to four between April and October.


Impact on flight operations
Qatar Airways has reduced services to Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi by about 44% since March 11. Emirates said the situation remains dynamic and the airline is currently operating services as scheduled across nine destinations. Air Tanzania and RwandAir have suspended flights to India.

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“A large number of universities in the US have shut for regular classes and students — many of whom are also OCI cardholders — want to return to India. Not just that, even students who have Indian passports are also rushing to return to the country as university campuses are shut,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, former strategy and commercial office at Vistara. “While OCI cardholder students want to return before the deadline, Indian passport holders are also rushing to come back because they expect flight operations to be suspended due to the ban.”
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They include those who’ve gone abroad to meet friends and family.

“We are seeing a large number of Indian nationals on short trips also trying to rush back. This has led to an increase in demand for our flights but this is not comparable to peak season demand,” said the country head of a foreign airline that connects a number of destinations in the country.

Air India executives said that the visa curbs could affect operations. “We are assessing the situation,” said a senior executive at the national carrier, which has decided to reduce flight frequency to Madrid, Paris, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv.

However, more than 80% of Air India’s passengers are Indian nationals, who can continue to enter India. Foreign airlines operating in and out of India have a 60-40 mix of Indian and foreign passport holders but they may not cancel flights even if loads drop.
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“Fact is, India has the least number of cases of coronavirus and foreign airlines may resort to a reduction in capacity by operating smaller aircraft or reduce the number of frequencies,” a foreign airline executive said.

Since early last month, foreign carriers operating to India have cancelled about 492 flights till March-end. Indian carriers have cancelled 96 international flights. This number is set to increase further after Wednesday’s order.
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“This is a fast-moving situation, and we recommend all customers check for the latest on their flight on ba.com,” British Airways said in an email. Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines gave similar responses.

An Indian airline executive said that domestic operations are also affected as people are deferring official as well as leisure travel plans.

However, SpiceJet Chairman Ajay Singh was optimistic. “The Indian aviation market and especially our domestic market has immense potential and will remain amongst the fastest growing in the world,” he said in a statement.
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