It’s not just hotshot business honchos with a Mayfair address who are jetting out of India. As countries pull up the drawbridge on travellers from India, many Indians are exfiltrating themselves for the sake of good health.
Since the US announced its travel restrictions on Friday, travel agents have been busy putting their clients on last-minute flights out of India. “It’s mostly senior citizens whose kids are abroad,” says Vishu Muttu, Director, Nexus Elite, a Mumbai-based travel agency. “With the situation in India getting worse, they want to bring their parents to safety. There are also a few students who are flying out before the gates close.” To be sure, students are exempt from the travel ban, as are journalists and certain other categories of travellers (more here). “But the rules are constantly changing, and a lot of students don’t want to take a chance,” he says.
And so, between Monday and Tuesday, at least four chartered flights are taking off from India for the US. These are all Air India aircraft operating non-scheduled commercial flights. The aircraft have been chartered by a travel company and the seats are being sold through a network of agents across the country. Flights are going from New Delhi to Washington, Chicago, New York and at least one from Mumbai to Newark. An Economy Class ticket on these flights is going for approximately Rs1.5 lakh, while a Business Class fare is pegged at around Rs2.5 lakh.
The UAE escape hatch is shutting
Now, these are not exactly private charters, but more like ‘pooled’ flights, a concept some enterprising folk have leveraged to get around UAE’s travel restrictions. The country’s clamp on travel from India came into effect late in April and will be in place till 14 May at the least. Though most regular travellers are not permitted to enter, the rules let you get in on a private ‘business aircraft’ that is carrying no more than 19 passengers.
Travel agents ran a few pooled flights, till the UAE’s aviation regulator clarified that this clause cannot be used to ferry people en masse. These operations are now subject to approvals—agents have to submit passengers’ details and wait for clearance.
Holding destination of choice: Bahrain
There’s another lot of travellers, the slightly wealthier lot, who is so eager to get out they don’t mind a two-week layover. The UK and major European countries are not taking anyone who has been in India over the past 10 or 14 days. And so, those who can afford to are heading to places where they can wait out this buffer period. With the UAE restricting travel from India, Bahrain has emerged as the most reasonable option.
But even Bahrain has only three non-stop flights per week from Delhi and only one from Mumbai. Seats are few, if at all, and tickets are going for upwards of Rs50,000, one-way. “So if someone is planning a long stay in Europe, they are first booking charters to Bahrain,” Muttu explains. This can set you back by Rs40 lakh for a 10-13 seater, since operators also charge for the empty-leg on return. “But it’s a good time for the charter jet business.”