With India establishing 'air bubbles' with countries such as the US and France, there is relief among passengers who have been unable to fly into or out of the country.
As of now, United, Air France, airlines from the Middle East have confirmed services.
But there is also confusion among fliers. Can everyone travel in and out of India on these air bubble flights? Can they do transit travel? How about quarantine, does one need to? Are the guidelines same as those for the Vande Bharat Mission flights?
Some of the finer details are still not clear. But we shed some light on these questions.
First of all, what's an air bubble?
As Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri pointed out, air bubbles are "at a stage short of normal civil aviation activities." In other words, these flights are a little more evolved than the repatriation flights but have not yet reached the 'normal' stage.
The Indian government has been holding talks with counterparts in the US, UK, Germany, UAE and France, to allow airlines from these countries to operate in India. This came after the US Transportation Department voiced these concerns.
Under Vande Bharat Mission, Air India has been flying passengers out, and into, India. The fares were fixed - at least deemed - and passengers flying from overseas, needed to book through local Indian embassies. Once they landed in India, the passengers had to go through quarantine as specified by the local state government.
Fliers are hoping that much of these restrictions will be relaxed when it comes to the air bubble flights. In reality, it may not be so.
Who can fly out?
The answer varies with the airline.
Air France, for instance, has specifically clarified that it's operating 'repatriation' flights. This is what it said on Twitter:
And this is what Air France said on its website:
Current approvals received by Air France / KLM for repatriation operations ex India allow travel of the following :
- EU Nationals returning to home country ( including PR holding spouse and children below 18 years of age accompanied or otherwise)
- Indian nationals with long-term EU residency permit with a final destination within Europe.
- All other foreign nationals returning to their home country.
- Indian nationals with Green Cards, Permanent Resident permit to Canada, USA & other countries will be allowed to travel only in case of the specified family connection i.e Spouse is a national of the destination country.
So an Indian student with a temporary residency in Europe can't travel yet.
Conditions are similar for travel on Emirates. This is what the Dubai-based airline said on its flights operating out of India:
"These flights will be available for UAE nationals and residents with prior entry approval from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs (GDFRA) for residents of Dubai and ICA approval for residents of other emirates of the UAE."
Who can fly into India?
By all indications, Air France is flying into India without passengers. On its website, the next available flight from Paris to Delhi is on August 31.
A call, and a long wait, to Air France customer services, confirmed the same: "There is no confirmation on flights from Paris to India, sir. We are only booking for flights from India," said the executive.
Emirates, on the other hand, is flying in Indians, 'originating from the UAE.' In other words, Indians flying into Dubai from Europe, and wanting to come to India, may not be allowed on these flights.
The Indian government has also signalled that transit travel will not be allowed.
An Emirates representative said that Indians could either book directly on its site or do it through the local Indian embassy as not everyone would have access to buy a ticket online.
A United spokesperson had earlier told Moneycontrol that customers can directly book on its website.
Does one need to do COVID-19 tests? How about quarantine?
Emirates specified that passengers flying in and out of India need to carry a test certificate that shows they have been tested negative.
Air France added that passengers will have to comply with measures set in place by destination and origin countries. In other words, if one lands in Mumbai or Delhi, the passenger will have to go into quarantine according to local requirement.
So what has really changed?
Good question. Not much, actually. Just that one now has more options to book from, within the restrictions. Apart from the likes of United and Air France, private Indian carriers, including IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara, may also start international operations.
One good has come out this, though.
And, what is that?
Fares will come down. Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal said on July 16 that the airline has cut fares by 25 percent on flights to North America and Europe.
As Moneycontrol had pointed out earlier: The fare dilemma: United's flights from Delhi put spotlight on Air India's Vande Bharat ticket price
Thanks to the competition, fares may go down further.