Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Wings clipped just when things started looking up

Kolkata: When Air India flight AI 1149 took off for Heathrow from Kolkata airport on Sunday morning, few had realized the Dreamliner aircraft that helped realize the dream of a direct London flight would not return next Sunday. Or the following Sunday.

However, health officials attending to the UK flight on Sunday were wary about reports of a different strain of the virus surfacing in the UK. When two of the 25 passengers who underwent Covid-19 test on arrival reported positive, it sparked fears of the new strain entering India.

Of the 1,488 passengers who have arrived on the flight since October 22, when the test-on-arrival facility was introduced at Kolkata airport, 342 got themselves tested for Covid on arrival. Of them, six tested positive, including the two who arrived on Sunday.

When the civil aviation ministry announced the ban on flights originating from the UK to India on Monday afternoon, health officials here were relieved. But it left flyers and the travel trade community who have been calling for a direct flight to Europe for a decade distraught. When the twice-a-week flight between London and Kolkata was announced in August, it was one hugely positive development amidst the Covid gloom.

Though the flight didn’t perform well initially and drew very poor loads, primarily due to difficulties in getting the RT-PCR test done in the UK, once tests-on-arrival were introduced at Kolkata airport, the load increased.

“In the past couple of weeks, the incoming flights have been full with NRIs and students arriving to spend the winter with family in Kolkata. Post Christmas, even the London-bound flights were getting filled to capacity. Some of us were even thinking of requesting the reinstatement of the second flight. Hence, the timing of the flight suspension is really unfortunate,” an Air India official said.

22/12/20 Subhro Niyogi/Times of India

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