Covid norms see 1-way US fares fly past Rs 1 lakh

(This story originally appeared in on Jan 13, 2021)

MUMBAI: Airfares to the US are at an all-time high for Indian passengers with the cheapest one-way fare for travel this month from cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to places such as New York and San Francisco starting at over Rs 1 lakh. Though there are cheaper, or rather regular, fares available between India and the US, those are for flights with a transit halt in London, and so are not open to Indians.

Under government guidelines for international travel, Indian passengers can board only direct flights to their destination — that is, they cannot board flights to the US that have a transit halt, say, in the Middle East or Europe (a transit halt within India is acceptable, though). “That norm has been enforced strictly in the past few weeks, which is why currently, the only two options for Indians travelling to the US are Air India and United Airlines,” said a travel industry insider.

On Tuesday, the cheapest one-way fare on Mumbai-NewYork JFK/Newark flights for travel on most dates in January was Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.4 lakh. Flying from Delhi was comparatively cheaper, with one-way Delhi-Newark fare starting at Rs 95,000. Air India’s recently launched Bangalore-San Francisco flights are a hit, with hardly any seats available for travel this month, except a few like a Rs 98,000 one-way fare for travel on January 14.

Pre-pandemic, close to 50% of the India-US traffic flew via the Middle East and a smaller percentage via Europe, an aviation consultancy firm said. “With supply constrained due to the norms and demand up due to the spring semester, fares have shot up,” an official said.

The worst hit are students bound to the US. “The only option for those who want to cut down the cost of flying to the US would be to pay Rs 40-50,000 extra and book a return journey, say, for December. That works out cheaper. Air India offers the option of a date change for a fee of Rs 7,000, while United allows it for free provided the fare is the same, which might not be the case if the student wants to fly back in December, but during lean months that arrangement would work out,” the official added.

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