5th Phase Of Indian Repatriation Flights To Begin Tomorrow

India will launch the fifth phase of its Vande Bharat Mission tomorrow to repatriate Indian nationals that are stranded abroad. The fifth phase, which will run during August, will bring stranded nationals home from 23 countries. The mission is expected to bring a further 130,000 Indian nationals back.

Air India Narrowbody
Air India opened bookings for travel from Australia under the fifth phase of the VBM. Photo: Getty Images

The fifth phase of VBM

The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) will enter its fifth phase in August. The scheme, organized by the Indian government, will be offering flights from more destinations at a lower price, as an increase in the number of international airlines entering India is driving prices down.

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A total of 792 flights, of which 692 are international, have been scheduled between August 1st and 31st. Indian nationals will be able to fly from 23 countries including, the UAE, the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, China, Israel, and Kyrgyzstan.

Air India will be offering VBM flights to five destinations in the US; New York JFK, Newark, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco. These flights will operate thrice weekly. The airline will also be offering flights to Paris and London three times a week and Frankfurt four times weekly. Air India Express is scheduled to operate a total of 118 flights from the UAE to India during this fifth phase of VBM.

During a media briefing, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, said that the flights would cater to 21 different airports in India and bring 130,000 more Indian nationals home. He added that so far under the VBM, 878,921 Indian citizens have returned home. Not all of these returned by flight however, with 107,452 people crossing land borders into India from Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Delhi Airport
India will operate international flights through the VBM and travel bubbles for the time being. Photo: Getty Images

Booking issues

Booking for the VBM phase five flights has not been easy. When VBM phase 5 was announced, several tickets were showing as sold out even before the sale of seats had begun. This problem seemed to last a few days, with many hopeful customers taking to social media to vent their frustration. Air India addressed this issue on its Twitter account saying,

“We understand that while making booking for flights under #VBM Phase 5, the flight availability sometimes shows ‘SOLD OUT.’ The system is dynamic & this issue, at times is due to technical challenges on account of very high number of hits.”

Passengers were encouraged to consult travel agents, who have recently been authorized to sell seat tickets on VBM flights, after several problems with Air India’s online booking portal. Customers have been warned to check the prices of VBM flights on Air India’s website before booking to make sure they are not paying over the top for a ticket.

SpiceJet take-off in the UK
SpiceJet will operate its first long-haul flight between Amsterdam and Bengaluru on August 1st. Photo: Getty Images

Travel bubbles

While regular international flights are yet to resume, India has signed several bilateral agreements with countries to form air or travel bubbles. The bubbles will allow people to travel on both legs of the flight. Passengers must meet the requirements for entry into the country they are traveling to. These agreements have so far been signed with the US, France, Germany, and the UK.

One of the main complaints with all repatriation flights around the world has been the cost. By forming these air bubbles, India has opened its airspace to international airlines, which has driven the price of VBM flights down. The price of flights to the US, for example, has decreased by 50% since the launch of the first VBM in May. Aside from Air India, United Airlines, Air France, and Lufthansa will be operating hundreds of flights over the next month.

Have you had problems booking a VBM flight? Let us know in the comments.