Thursday, April 29, 2021

Big rush to get to US, Air India ups nonstops to pre-Covid level

New Delhi: Air India is soon going to operate almost as many nonstops to the US as it did in pre-pandemic times, thanks to a scramble to reach there for two main reasons.

Indians/NRIs/PIOs fear the US may also close its doors for them like several others countries have done during the ongoing uncontrolled explosion of Covid cases and are rushing back.

Secondly, they fear falling sick in India at a time when the healthcare system here has crumbled and crematoriums are working overtime. Due to this demand surge, Air India is going to operate 32 weekly nonstops to the US by May 11, just one shot of its pre-pandemic frequency of 33.

Air India uses two versions of its Boeing 777 for North America — 238-seater long-range (mainly for the west coast) and 342-seater extended range (east coast). “India-US flights are going full (leading to high fares) with people scrambling to return. Most Air India and United India-US flights till about mid-May are almost sold out,” said people in the know. The flights to India, on their other hand, have much lighter loads with 150-180 passengers, they add. The rush to the US has seen fares jump with one-way economy India-New York often costing Rs 1.5 lakh.

Canada last Friday (April 23) suspended all passenger flights from India for 30 days. Following this, Air India had to cancel all its flights to Vancouver and Toronto till May 22. Given the demand for the US and the B777s spare with Canada flights cancelled, the soon-to-be-privatised Maharaja started adding US nonstops under the air bubble between the two countries. It started a new route also, Delhi-Newark.

An Air India spokesperson said: “Prior to recent discontinuation of our flights to Canada, we were operating 29 flights per week to the US. We planned to increase the frequency to 30 and 32 per week from May 16 and 18, respectively. After discontinuation of Canada flights… an increase in frequency to 30 and 32 per week has been preponed to May 9 and 11, 2021, respectively.” In pre-covid days till March 15, 2020, Air India had about 33 flights weekly to the US.

The mainstay of Air India international operations are the medium range 256-seater B787 Dreamliners used for Europe, the far east and Australia; and the B777s for North America.

29/04/21 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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