The festival of Diwali has seen India’s domestic passenger numbers reach their peak since flights restarted. Over 225,000 passengers took to the skies on 13th November, the day before Diwali, as thousands wished to return home. India has seen domestic numbers steadily recover since May, with the 10% Diwali jump being the biggest yet.
The festival season in India (October-November) is usually strong for airlines, with thousands flying to celebrate with family. However, this year’s pandemic cast doubts over whether travelers would be willing to fly during the holidays due to the circumstances. The holiday of Dussehra (end of October) did not see a substantial rise in passengers, leading to fears of a weaker festival season.
However, the day before Diwali saw a last-minute surge in passenger numbers. In a tweet, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri confirmed that 225,097 passengers took to the skies on 13th November. This number is over a 10% jump from the previous week’s numbers, showing a clear Diwali bump in travel.
It is yet to be seen if India can maintain such high passenger counts in the coming weeks or if numbers will settle near the 200,000 mark once again. Vande Bharat flights (which includes all international Air India flights) also saw a bump in travelers, with over 6,900 returning on the day before Diwali.
The latest domestic bump due to Diwali pushes India closer towards its goal of reaching pre-pandemic passenger levels. India has seen an impressive recovery since domestic flights resumed at the end of May, following a two-month break due to lockdown restrictions. Daily passenger numbers have steadily risen from 30,000 in May to well over 200,000 as of November.
India recently increased its cap on domestic flights from 60% to 70% to facilitate the growing numbers. This will likely mean that India will increase the current limit of 13,000 flights for the entire winter season as well. However, fare caps remain in place until next year to prevent price wars or last-minute surge fares.
While domestic traffic is recovering well, international flights are lagging significantly behind. India still has a ban on scheduled international flights, only allowing foreign carriers from 20 travel bubble countries with strict limits. The ban has also meant Indian airlines are restricted in the number of flights and routes they can fly, with no flights to key destinations yet.
The next few months will be critical for the airline industry, which has recently been buoyed by the news of a successful COVID-19 vaccine this month. However, with overall capacity still low, airlines can expect a difficult winter and spring season before things begin to get better.