Different quarantine rules in various states for incoming passengers has led to “confusion and uncertainty” that has prevented demand for air travel from being fully realised and led to an uptick in cancellations by the few business travellers that airlines are banking on, aviation sector players told The Indian Express.
After the resumption of domestic operations on May 25, following the two-month Covid lockdown break, almost all demand has been from those returning home or flying due to exigent situations. But for other segments, the varied and frequent changes in rules has been a dampener, with IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta stating that “an uncertainty of restrictions” is among reasons that are “hugely dampening for traffic”.
Kapil Kaul, CEO & director at aviation consultancy firm CAPA South Asia, said, “Demand is lower than expected largely due to the confusion and uncertainty at the state level regarding resumption, quarantine rules and continuing escalation in the infections. The expected pent-up demand has not been fully realised largely due to the confusion — which may be settling now.”
States like Goa, Karnataka and Delhi tightened procedures after at least 30 asymptomatic passengers tested positive after landing in several locations across the country in the first seven days since air travel resumed. For instance, Delhi had earlier “advised” home quarantine for 14 days, but later made it “mandatory” for the first seven days. Goa changed its SOP twice. On the other hand, Kerala allows short-term business travel of up to seven days to the state for those who obtain an e-pass.
According to an executive at an online travel agency, there has been an increase in enquiries for cancellations to destinations like Delhi, Goa, Bengaluru, etc. “These enquiries were mainly from business travellers who wouldn’t want to spend a week in quarantine for a two-day trip. But overall, the rise in cancellation enquiries on our platform is less than 5 per cent because right now people want to return to home,” the person said.
Dutta had said: “Let me state clearly that there is a dampening effect on the revenue. There is a customer fear, we all know how strong that is. On top of that, the economy is weak. Even if the customers would want to travel, the economy would have depressed demand. Then, there is an uncertainty of restrictions — what will Karnataka allow, what will Kerala allow. All those three things are hugely dampening for traffic.”
The industry is now placing all its bets on an expected new wave of demand from those travelling to visit friends and relatives — the VFR category. A third wave, which will depend on economic recovery, is expected to come from business travel, which accounted for 70 per cent of traffic during pre-Covid non-vacation seasons.
Dutta said VFR traffic will drive demand growth. Kaul, however, said demand will continue to be impacted till the infection curve is flattened.
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