India’s Civil Aviation Minister has announced that airlines can accept bookings for domestic flights after 14th April. The news will be a boost to airlines, which have struggled since India imposed a 3-week national lockdown that banned air travel.
International flights, including repatriation flights for Indians, will resume on a case-by-case basis after the lockdown. However, the Minister has clarified that flights will not operate if there is an extension of the current lockdown.
What is the situation currently?
The government’s latest comments indicate that air travel may resume in India once the lockdown is over. This would bring much-needed relief for airlines, which have had to suspend all flights due to the domestic and international flight bans. In response, most carriers have cut salaries and some have laid-off employees in order to survive
If indeed domestic air travel is allowed to resume, we could see a sharp rise in passengers and people trying to return home. This, in turn, would help airlines generate essential capital and avoid mass-layoffs. However, this rise could be temporary, as passengers avoid travel due to fears over the virus.
What are the chances of the flights resuming?
While these comments do give us some hope, the situation in India only seems to be intensifying. The country has reported over 2,500 cases of the virus, with nearly half of those appearing in the last two days. This shape rise in cases could prevent the government from allowing flights to resume, which places passengers and crew at risk.
The government could instead allow a temporary reprieve to help both stranded passengers and airlines. However, this could cause a huge spike in demand and make flying riskier in a time of physical distancing. Airlines have not yet received any bailout from the government, as a previous plan seems to be shelved. This means many carriers run at a high risk of collapse as their fleets remain parked across the country.
So, should you book your flights?
This news might leave you wondering whether it’s safe to book flights for travel in the next month or so. Most airlines are offering free rescheduling and travel vouchers in case you are unable to fly, meaning the risk is low. However, it should be noted that most airlines are not offering cash refunds, meaning you probably won’t get your money back.
At this time it would probably be best to wait and see how the situation evolves in the coming weeks. The rate of the virus seems to be accelerating, meaning the chances of flight resumption is dropping. Fares are likely to remain extremely low for a while, so you don’t run the risk of paying a high price.
Most aviation analysts predict that airlines will need a substantial bailout in the event air travel doesn’t resume soon. Until now, airlines have avoided laying off large numbers of staff and major cost cuts, but that could change at any time. In case the government doesn’t bail out airlines soon, we could be looking at a smaller market when the dust settles.