With various countries gradually lifting travel restrictions from India under air bubble arrangements, both Indian and foreign airlines are offering a number of flight options for those who want to travel to countries such as the US, Germany, France, Canada, the UK and the UAE. However, travel is subject to certain conditions imposed by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the governments of the destination countries.
What are air transport bubbles?
Transport bubbles are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. India has created air travel arrangements with countries like the US, France, Germany, the UK, Canada, the UAE and Maldives.
Who can travel abroad from India?
According to the guidelines for these air bubbles, in addition to citizens of the respective countries and foreign nationals who want to transit through these countries, Indian nationals can also travel subject to certain conditions. For the countries with which India has air transport arrangements, Indian nationals holding a valid visa with validity of at least one month — other than visa for tourism purpose — are allowed to travel. The UAE, in fact, has also allowed tourists to travel into its borders. This means that visa holders of various categories such as student visa, business visa, work visa will be allowed to travel outside from India. The US Embassy in India resumed processing of student visas from Monday (August 17) on a limited basis, which could help students who want to join the fall semester.
The Home Ministry guidelines state, however, that all such travel shall be “entirely at the risk of the person seeking to travel, bearing in mind the existing restrictions on International travel”.
Who can travel into India from abroad?
In addition to Indian nationals being allowed to travel on inbound flights operated either by Indian carriers or foreign carriers, certain categories of foreign nationals are also allowed to travel to India. Until recently, only certain holders of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards were allowed to enter India but the government has now allowed all OCI cardholders to arrive into India.
For other foreign nationals, the categories allowed to enter India include foreign businessmen coming to India on a business visa (other than on B-3 visa for sports); foreign healthcare professionals, health researchers, engineers and technicians for technical work at Indian health sector facilities, including laboratories and factories (subject to a letter of invitation from a recognised and registered healthcare facility, registered pharmaceutical company or accredited university in India); and foreign engineering, managerial, design or other specialists travelling to India on behalf of foreign business entities located in India (these include all manufacturing units, design units, software and IT units as well as financial sector companies, both banking and non-banking financial sector firms).
Which airlines are operating flights to/from India?
National carrier Air India is leading the way with flights from various stations in India such as Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi, Amritsar and Thiruvananthapuram to destinations like London, Birmingham, Frankfurt, Paris, Newark, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC.
Airlines of these countries, too, have been permitted to carry passengers on both legs of flights — a fundamental difference that sets these flights apart from the repatriation flights on which one leg was to be flown empty. These airlines include United, Air France, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Emirates, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic.
The foreign carriers have also been permitted to carry passengers who want to transit through their countries subject to the destination country allowing travel into their borders. In a statement, Lufthansa said that with Indian citizens being eligible to fly to India from the US, Canada and Germany on its flights, it will operate flights from Frankfurt to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and from Munich to Delhi. Virgin Atlantic has said it plans to operate thrice-a-week flights from London to Delhi and back starting September 1, and from London to Mumbai and back starting September 16. Air Canada, too, is operating flights between Toronto and Delhi three times a week under the arrangement.
In addition to foreign carriers and Air India, private Indian airlines are also expected to make the best of the air bubble arrangements. Full service carrier Vistara is expected to start operations between India and the UK, France and Germany. This will begin with thrice-a-week flights between Delhi and London’s Heathrow airport, where Vistara has acquired slots. At a later stage, Vistara is expected to add Paris and Frankfurt to its route-map. Low-cost airline SpiceJet has also acquired slots at London’s Heathrow airport from September 1 and is looking to operate one flight daily from multiple Indian cities.
What do you need to do to travel abroad?
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a set of guidelines for international arrival as per which all travellers should submit a self-declaration form on the portal http://www.newdelhiairport.in at least 72 hours before the scheduled travel. They should also give an undertaking on the portal that they will undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days i.e. 7 days institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by 7 days isolation at home with self-monitoring of health.
For those travelling outside India, various countries have different isolation and testing norms. For example, France requires on-the-spot Covid-19 tests for people arriving from 16 countries, including India, the US and Brazil, where the pandemic is spreading widely. The UK has a comprehensive list of countries with no requirement of self-isolation upon arrival in England. The list does not include India, meaning that those travelling to the UK from India will need to self-isolate for 14 days. For the UAE, according to Air India Express, passengers travelling to the West Asian country will need a prior approval from its Federal Authority for Identity & Citizenship.
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