Domestic air travel resumes with confusion at airports, cancelled flights

Chaos will make it even harder for airlines to recover from the impact of a two-month lockdown to contain the coronavirus, said analysts.


Airlines' plans to resume air travel in India were in disarray on Monday after some states restricted the number of flights just hours before departure, causing last-minute cancellations and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

Airlines, including IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Vistara, had been preparing to resume operations from Monday with about a third of their capacity amid strict rules.

But new restrictions at major airports, including Mumbai and Chennai, forced airlines to scramble late on Sunday to revise schedules.

The confusion will make it even harder for airlines to recover from the impact of a two-month lockdown to contain the novel coronavirus that has already cost tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue, industry executives, lawyers and analysts said.

"The entire handling of the restart has been reduced to a farce, causing pain for airlines, airports, and passengers," Reuters quoted an industry executive as saying on condition of anonymity.

IndiGo had planned to start with about 430 daily flights while it's low-cost rival SpiceJet said it would operate 204 flights a day and AirAsia India would start with 77 flights.

Indira Gandhi International Airport Authorities preparing airport during the fourth phase of nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi. Photo: Dalip Kumar.

The final number could be much lower as some states, especially where coronavirus cases are rising, have curtailed air travel following relaxations that last Thursday allowed some domestic operations to resume. IndiGo said on Monday it plans to fly just over 200 daily flights until May 31.

Potential travellers are also likely to be deterred by a lack of clarity on quarantine rules in different states. "It's unfortunate there was no effective coordination between the states and central government. Each state has come out with its own rules, which is confusing and will compel only a few to fly," aviation law expert Nitin Sarin, a managing partner at Sarin & Co, said.

Meanwhile, The first passenger flight from Delhi airport IndiGo 6E643 departed for Pune, while the first domestic passenger flight to arrive at Delhi on Monday was from Ahmedabad and it was of SpiceJet, the officials said.

The Mumbai airport's operator MIAL said in a statement: "The first flight departing out of CSMIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport ) will be to Patna at 6:45hrs and flight arriving from Lucknow will be the first arrival flight at 8:20hrs both operated by IndiGo.

As many as 80 flights arriving at or departing from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport were cancelled. In Tripura, all flights at Agartala's Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport were cancelled on Monday.

Passengers of an Air India Bengaluru-Hyderabad flight said their flight has been cancelled, without prior notice from the airline. "Only when our boarding passes were scanned at the airport entry we were told that boarding has been cancelled.We don't know what to do now," quoted a passenger as saying.

Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have sought more time to restart domestic flights. Maharashtra have only allowed a few flights each day from Mumbai airport, India’s second busiest. Andhra Pradesh will start resume flights from May 26, and West Bengal from May 28.