Wednesday, September 16, 2020

11 years on, first London flight to land in Kolkata

Kolkata: At noon on Wednesday, Air India flight AI 1550 will take off from Heathrow airport in London for Kolkata airport, reconnecting the umbilical cord that had been snapped 11 years ago when first AI and then British Airways withdrew services from the sector.

The flight is scheduled to arrive in Kolkata at 2.20am on Thursday and take off for London again at 6.20am on Thursday. “There is a lot of hope riding on the flight. Though it has been initially scheduled for only five weeks, we will try to convince AI to persist with the flight and make it part of the regular service between the two cities. Once the flight becomes regular, it will attract passengers bound for not only the UK but to the rest of Europe and the US as well,” said a leading travel agent on the eve of the flight’s arrival. The current flights under the Vande Bharat mission have been scheduled between September 16 and October 24. The travel trade fraternity hopes it will be extended as part of the bubble flight pact between India and the UK. There is one area of concern though. Only a quarter of the first pair of inaugural flights have been booked.

While poor passenger load isn’t unusual when a new flight is introduced in an international sector with three-four months needed to attain flier confidence and stabilise the flight, the travel trade fraternity is concerned that the airline top brass may pull the plug prematurely, citing poor loads.

The Boeing B787 aircraft with a reduced capacity of 234 passengers will fly in with barely 60 passengers from London and fly out with 70. Incidentally, Vistara that started its direct service to London from Delhi had fewer passengers on the inaugural flight. Loads have since improved.

“One needs to give a flight some time. Unfortunately, that is what’s been lacking when it comes to treatment with flights from Kolkata. We are glad that AI has scheduled the flight. The airline will do everyone a big service if it continues to operate the flight beyond October 24,” said another travel agent.
16/09/20 Subhro Niyogi & Tamaghna Banerjee/Times of India

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