Time to open flights to Thailand, Saudi Arabia: IndiGo CEO

Charters do brisk business as govt. treads cautiously on international flights

November 10, 2021 08:47 pm | Updated 11:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

With festivities and holiday season pushing up demand for air travel it is time for the government to improve international connectivity under the air-bubble arrangement by adding countries like Saudi Arabia and Thailand under the “air bubble” arrangement, says IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta.

While 96 countries around the world recognise India’s Covid-19 vaccination certificates, the government has been cautious in fully reopening international flights. India permits only direct commercial flights to and from 28 countries, with which it has a temporary arrangement, also known as an “air bubble” agreement.

“I’m hoping that the government will open up air bubble destinations. Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi are doing very well because of air bubble arrangements. Our next target markets, on which we are working with the government, are Saudi Arabia and Thailand. We really want these opened up and all indications are that by December they will reopen,” Mr. Dutta told The Hindu in an interview on Wednesday.

Flights or no flights, Phuket remains the top searched international destination on travel portals compelling market players to invent innovative ways to service this demand. MakeMyTrip has tied up with IndiGo and Go First for charter flights to Phuket. The collaborations will allow MakeMyTrip to charter an entire plane from either airline, which it will sell by the seat. Passengers will also get end-to-end travel assistance including airport transfers, Thailand Pass application assistance, early check-in and check-out at premium properties, travel insurance, return RT-PCR assistance and hotel stay at ₹39,999 for a five-day trip.

Charters have after all been a lucrative business for airlines during the pandemic, and have emerged as a new revenue stream.

“Earlier we would see one or two charters in a month. Now, they are 11% of our departures,” says Mr. Dutta.

Before Covid-19, the airline would fly nearly 33,000 departures per month. In the past three months, it has flown an average of 29,000 flights per month. Therefore, a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that the number of charters have gone up from one or two to nearly 3,200 in a month, including cargo.

“There is charter demand for Male, we have done charters to Malaysia, Tashkent, Milan, Phuket, Nairobi. We have had a steady stream of cargo charters to places like Singapore, Rangoon, Hanoi. So, it is all over the map,” says the top executive.

The demand has come from students, pilgrims, tourists and wedding parties.

So, is it not time for the government to put an entry protocol in place for vaccinated international travelers and reopen scheduled international flights fully?

“I’d love for that to happen, but it’s just not practical. Our travel partners, hotels are saying let’s do a big-bang opening but I think it’s going to be tough for the government to do that because in some countries the cases are still quite high. But we could do a gradual opening internationally just like we did for domestic flights. Phuket, Saudi and then Singapore and keep moving like that based on country-by-country approach.”

While the airline serves 24 international destinations, with a firm footing in countries located at a short-haul distance, it aims to now build its network to include those within a radius of seven hours such as “Manila, Beijing, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Nairobi”. Only subsequently, will the airline look at long and ultra long-haul stations such as London, New York.

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