India has again extended its ban on scheduled international flights. The order means that all scheduled passenger flights are suspended until the end of March, while cargo flights can continue to operate. However, international travel has resumed due to travel bubbles and hundreds of repatriation flights.
In what has become routine now, the Indian government has ordered that scheduled international flights remain suspended for an additional month. March will mark a full year since India ordered its first international flight ban. The original one-week ban has now been extended to one year (and possibly beyond).
The Indian government has repeatedly signaled that it has no plans to reopen scheduled flights until travel restrictions remain in place. It will likely take months, if not another year, as vaccines roll out slowly and infection levels must drop for borders to reopen. However, India no longer seems concerned with the upcoming restoration of scheduled flights, focusing instead on travel bubbles.
We can expect the ban to remain in place at least until this summer, if not longer, without a firm timeline provided by the government. With the increase in cases in India and the emergence of new strains of the virus, opening up international travel is not a priority at this time.
Travel bubbles and VBM
Instead of reopening all flights, India signed travel agreements to restart international flights. 27 countries have accepted travel bubbles, allowing flights to and from these destinations to resume. This includes countries like United States, United Kingdom, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Maldives, Seychelles, Russia, Rwanda, Qatar and several others.
It should be noted that travel bubbles do not allow airlines to carry connecting passengers. With a few exceptions (European airlines can connect to / from the EU and some airlines can connect passengers from South America and Africa), all traffic is point-to-point only.
For travel countries that have not signed a travel agreement with India, repatriation flights from the Vande Bharat (VBM) mission are continuing. This allows travel to destinations like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and others. India’s border restrictions and flight ban mean the repatriation mission has been underway since May.
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The lack of connecting traffic from carriers in the Middle East and Europe has resulted in an increase in new direct flights from North America. United opened a New Delhi-Chicago service in December and plans to continue its Bangalore-San Francisco flights this spring.
American Airlines will also launch its Bangalore-Seattle this winter, while Air India has added two new American routes in recent months. Air Canada is also planning a new Montreal-New Delhi route from April.
Regular international flights are unlikely to resume anytime soon, given the circumstances. However, repatriation and travel bubbles allow essential travel (and some leisure travel) to continue for the time being. With the emergence of new routes, the post-ban international market could be very different at any time.
What do you think of the ban? Let us know what you think in the comments section.