Monday, December 07, 2020

Kolkata: London flight logs best Covid-time passenger load with 245 arrivals

Kolkata: The direct Air India service between London and Kolkata has witnessed a spectacular turnaround since the beginning of this month with packed incoming flights from Heathrow and outgoing flights registering a significant rise in occupancy.

According to AI officials, 16 of the 18 business class seats and 227 out of 238 economy class seats were occupied in the flight that landed at Kolkata airport at 7am on Sunday. There were two infants as well among the flyers. “This is the best passenger load so far. There has been a steady rise in the passenger count over the last few weeks since the introduction of Covid RT-PCR tests at the Kolkata airport. On Sunday, the flight from London arrived with an almost capacity crowd,” said Kaushik Bhattacharjee, the airport director.

He added 54 out of the total 245 passengers on Sunday had come without a Covid report. They underwent RT-PCR test at the airport and 52 flyers tested negative.

“A Covid test in the UK costs almost Rs 30,000 and it may take up to three days to get the report. I opted for the test on arrival and got it done at Rs 1,500 only. Also, the report came within a few hours,” recounted one of the 54 passengers.

An airline official said flights from London scheduled throughout the month — December 12, 19 and 26 — were booked almost to capacity. Since the introduction of the flight from mid-September till the last week of October, it had been operating with extremely poor loads of 60-90 passengers, leading to the airline reducing the frequency from twice a week to once as it was financially unviable.

Now, with the restrictions eased in December, the demand for seats on the direct flights to Kolkata from London has gone through the roof. “Nearly all the passengers are non-resident Indians. They usually travel once a year to Kolkata to meet their families, relatives and friends. The preferred time is winter, especially around the Christmas holidays. Confined to their homes in the UK for most of the year, they are now desperate to get out and are flying to India,” the official said.

Though the load on the departing flight isn’t as impressive, it is still around 115-150. This load is expected to shoot up after Christmas and through January when the NRIs begin returning.

“Nearly all the arriving passengers have return tickets. So the load on outgoing flights will also be significantly higher next month,” another airline official said.

07/12/20 Tamaghna Banerjee/Times of India

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