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International flights explained: Who can fly on special planes, and when will normal travel resume?

Resumption of international flights: Even as airlines - both Indian and foreign - have been accorded the permissions to fly passengers of any citizenship on either of the flight legs, fliers will be subjected to the restrictions imposed by the respective government of the destination country.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 15, 2020 1:38:58 pm
American Airlines planes are parked at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa. (AP Photo)

As flights from India to the US, France and Germany under the temporary reciprocal arrangement begin, passengers, including Indian citizens, have been scrambling to get a seat on these outbound flights.

Even as airlines – both Indian and foreign – have been accorded the permissions to fly passengers of any citizenship on either of the flight legs, passengers will be subjected to the restrictions imposed by the respective government of the destination country.

Who all can fly on these special flights?

As per the Ministry of Civil Aviation, flights to the US can carry Indian nationals who are permitted to travel abroad as per the home ministry guidelines and those who hold valid US visas, in addition to US citizens, legal permanent residents, and foreign nationals holding valid US visas. Similarly, for France and Germany, stranded European Union (EU) nationals/residents, foreign nationals destined for EU and transiting through France or Germany can travel. In addition to this, Indian nationals who are permitted to travel abroad as per home ministry norms, and are destined for EU can also travel on these flights.

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Is there a catch?

The civil aviation ministry in its framework for “transport bubbles” has explicitly mentioned: “Before making reservations, the passengers must confirm that they would be allowed entry into the destination country”. Here, passengers might face certain roadblocks in their travel plans with jurisdictions like the EU not having allowed inbound travel from India based on its perception of how India has dealt with the Covid-19 situation. The European Council has adopted a recommendation on gradual lifting of temporary restrictions of non-essential travel into the European Union. This recommendation included 15 countries from where travel was allowed July 1 onwards. The list was reviewed and revised on July 16 to 13 countries. However, India did not feature in either of the lists.

When are normal international flights expected to resume?

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has repeatedly said that the resumption will be gradual in nature and will proceed in accordance with how the virus behaves. Shutting down international travel was one of the first lines of defence at the disposal of countries to prevent the outbreak of Covid-19 within their borders and countries will continue to restrict international flights as long as the threat perception remains. New Zealand, which had fully gotten rid of the virus, started witnessing a recurrence once international flights were allowed forcing the country to close its borders again.

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Are Indian airlines gearing up for resumption of international travel?

While state-owned Air India has been operating flights across the world under the Vande Bharat Mission, private airlines, too, are now moving in direction of starting long-haul flights.

Experts point out that this is mainly on account of a potential fall in demand for one-stop flights with passengers now preferring to fly non-stop to curtail travel times. While this could be harmful to the interests of West Asian carriers that fly passengers from India, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, etc to the UK, the US and Europe, the trend may bode well for long-haul carriers.

To this effect, Indian low-cost airline SpiceJet has acquired the designated scheduled carrier status from the Indian government to fly to the US and the UK. However, a number of formalities are yet to be completed including securing permissions from the authorities in the US and the UK, and acquiring an aircraft to fly long durations. Reportedly, SpiceJet is in talks with some foreign carriers that have idle wide-bodied aircraft and crew capacity to wet-lease planes to start its long-haul operations once the permits have been secured.

Furthermore, full-service airline Vistara, which had laid down plans to fly to the UK, Japan, Russia prior to the Covid-1919 pandemic, took delivery of an Airbus A321neo aircraft in line with its international growth strategy.

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