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

‘Charters doing brisk business as Govt. treads cautiously on international flights’

November 11, 2021 01:13 am | Updated 01:32 am IST - NEW DELHI

IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutt

IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutt

With the festivities and the holiday season pushing up the 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, 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 the “air-bubble” agreement.

‘Air-bubble’ destinations

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

Flights or no flights, Phuket remains the top searched international destination on travel portals compelling the 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 collaboration will allow MMT 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 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,” said Mr. Dutta.

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

‘All over the map’

“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,” he said.

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

So, is it not the time for the Government to put an entry protocol in place for vaccinated international travellers and reopen scheduled flights fully? “I’d love that to happen, but it’s just not practical. Our travel partners, hotels want a big-bang opening but I think it’s going to be tough for the Government because in some countries the number of cases is still quite high. We could do a gradual opening internationally, just like we did for the domestic flights. Phuket, Saudi Arabia 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 and New York.

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