Friday, October 23, 2020

Air India raises its London game like never before this winter

One may not associate the aggressiveness with the state carrier, but Air India has surely taken the lead when it comes to operating on one of the busiest international routes this winter

The airline will fly to London from eight Indian cities, starting January 1. These include Kochi and Goa. While Air India had started services from the two popular tourist destinations - Kochi in August and Goa from mid-October  - this is the first time they feature in the carrier's winter schedule.

The Kochi service began as part of the Vande Bharat repatriate exercise.

While the main hubs of Delhi and Mumbai continue to feature in Air India's schedule, others include Amritsar, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru.

"It is very radical and innovative, in several ways. It illustrates the saying 'never let a serious crisis go to waste,'" says Craig Jenks, President and Founder, Airline/Aircraft Projects, a consultancy based in New York.

Air India surely is. While it had the monopoly over Vande Bharat Mission flights when the repatriation exercise took off, the airline continues to be the dominant player in bagging rights under the air travel bubble arrangement. At present, India has these arrangements with 18 countries, with Bangladesh and Ukraine being the latest additions.

Now the national airline wants to dominate the London route, not just from the hubs of Delhi and Mumbai, but also from the smaller cities.

"For decades, Air India could not / would not do most of these routes. Because their connecting hubs were/are in Mumbai and more recently, much more in Delhi," points out Jenks. The practice was to feed the hubs of Delhi and Mumbai with traffic from smaller cities through domestic flights.

The additional connections will make up for the loss on business travel, especially on the Mumbai-London route, and cater to the pent-up demand from Indian expats. It helps that on October 22, the government further relaxed restrictions on visa, including those for OCI and PIO cardholders.

Jenks said for decades, Air India was serving the rest of India to London by connecting passengers via Mumbai or Delhi. “This was not popular with passengers.” But now the airline is looking to serve expats (Ahmedabad and Amritsar) and tourists (Goa and Kochi) by introducing new routes, according to him.

23/10/20 Prince Mathews Thomas/

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