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Air travel suspended in India: What impact will it have on travellers, airlines?

Coronavirus in India: The lockdown on air travel, in addition to a complete shutdown of Railways and interstate road transport, would result in citizens being confined to their cities.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: March 25, 2020 8:32:47 am
Air travel suspended in India: What impact will Covid-19 have on travellers, airlines? Passengers wearing protective masks, walk out of NSCBI airport in Kolkata. (PTI Photo: Ashok Bhaumik)

After 11.59 pm, no passenger flight will operate in India for a week as the government has announced a clampdown on air travel to curb the rapid spread of Covid-19 infections.

This will result in about 650 aircraft in fleets of Indian airlines being grounded, and all 3,300 flights that operate domestically every day being cancelled.

What does this mean for passengers?

Airline companies are operating more flights on Tuesday as compared to the previous day. From midnight, however, the lockdown on air travel in addition to a complete shutdown of Railways and interstate road transport, would mean that citizens will be confined to their cities.

For air travel, these restrictions will be in effect till March 31, with the exceptions of all-cargo flights, off-shore helicopter operations, medical evacuation flights and special flights approved by aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

What about passengers who have already booked for travel beyond Tuesday?

Airlines haven’t said anything on this yet. In all likelihood, however, they will either offer free change of flights on a later date, or a refund, in some cases.

Globally, though, there is a practice of offering full refunds in the form of credits to be used over a stipulated period of time, for example a year.

Air travel suspended in India: What impact will Covid-19 have on travellers, airlines? At the Mumbai International Airport. (File Photo)

What does this mean for airlines?

With airlines operating less than 50 per cent of the domestic flight schedule on Monday, their books had started to bleed because of the curtailed operations. Some airlines were even planning a shutdown by design to arrest the decline in their cash-flow, given that they were just weeks away from bankruptcy.

The announcement by the government to ground all flights for a week is expected to reduce their losses as the carriers will not be flying empty planes. However, an element of fixed-cost payments still remain and airlines will need assistance from other stakeholders like airports, lessors, and the government to delay those payments.

Here’s a quick coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: Are smokers at high risk form coronavirus? | Can Vitamin-C prevent or cure coronavirus infection? | What exactly is community spread of coronavirus? | How long can the Covid-19 virus survive on a surface? | Amid the lockdown, what is allowed, what is prohibited?

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