On May 4, US banned entry to certain categories of non-immigrant travelers from India. “The flyers expected US to relax these restrictions as the Covid cases have gone down. Anticipating this, they booked US flight tickets. But the restrictions haven’t been lifted yet and so this category of flyers have been cancelling their tickets,” said an Air India source.
“A number of our fully-booked US flights now have many empty seats and so we were forced to cancel, reschedule. The students booked on these flights unfortunately took the collateral damage,” the source added.
Two weeks ago, Ajay Anand (name changed on request), bought a Rs 70,000 return ticket from Air India website for travel on August 10 Delhi-New York flight. This week, the airline website said that his booking had changed and directed him to their call centre.
“I made multiple calls to Air India call centre, was put on hold for over three hours but still couldn’t get my ticket rescheduled. So I cancelled the AI ticket and bought a return ticket to New York on a United flight for Rs 1.50 lakh which transits through Frankfurt,” he said. With popular transit hubs like Dubai, London shut for Indians, the options for US travel have narrowed down and fares have jumped.
An Air India spokesperson said that after the May 4 US Presidential Proclamation restricting air traffic from India, some of AI flights to the USA had to be curtailed or rescheduled.
“These were effected well in advance and passengers kept aware of the cancellations and rescheduling of their travel itinerary – which had to be done due to reasons beyond our control. Vis-a-vis the approximate 40 flights we used to operate to the USA before the presidential proclamation, we could operate 11 flights per week to USA in July. The frequency is being increased to 21 from 7 August. In order to clear the passenger rush, an additional flight per week is also planned to Newark from Delhi over and above the existing flights to the US. With the frequency being enhanced on the US sector, all-out efforts are being made to accommodate as many passengers as possible in our US-bound flights from August,” the Air India spokesperson said.
The US has permitted entry to students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas intending to begin or continue academic studies beginning August 1 or later.