Air India will connect London and Kolkata for the first time in 11 years later today. The flight will depart London Heathrow at 12:00 PM and land in Kolkata 02:20 AM local time. Many are hoping this temporary Vande Bharat service will carry on to become a permanent route in the future and offer a European connection from the city.
Today’s London-Kolkata flight will be the first direct connection between the cities since 2009. Both British Airways and Air India canceled the route in 2009, citing commercially inviability. While Air India had only restarted the route in 2006, British Airways had a long history of flying the route, connecting the two cities for decades.
Kolkata has a long history in aviation, serving as a critical stopover for long flights between Europe and East Asia. British Airways (then BOAC) used Kolkata to refuel on its London to Hong Kong, as did dozens of other airlines. The airport’s significance waned after the 1970s and by the early 2000s, most European carriers had exited the market.
Since the exit, those flying to or from Kolkata have needed to take a connecting flight, either through domestic hubs such as Delhi and Mumbai, or flying with one of the Middle East Three. However, these options generally add at least 3-4 hours to flight time and many have long-requested a direct connection into Europe again. Air India has answered these requests, but the question is for how long?
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Vande Bharat route
The new Air India Kolkata to London route is a part of the massive Vande Bharat repatriation mission (VBM). The flight will operate twice a week, until October 24th, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Flight time is around 10 hours in both directions. These flights are still repatriation ones and are only for those who have permission to enter the UK or India.
Under the sixth phase of VBM, Air India has greatly expanded flights to London, offering direct flights from 10 Indian cities, a considerable increase over the original five routes. This comes as the airline anticipates vast demand for flights to London in the next month as traffic picks up.
According to leading travel agents in the Times of India, the inaugural flights between Kolkata and London aren’t attracting too many passengers. Only 60 passengers are on the outbound leg from London, while 70 are flying out of Kolkata. However, business class is almost sold out, with 14 out of 16 seats occupied.
The travel agent notes that inaugural flights to fall short sometimes, citing Vistara’s London flights in August as having lower passenger counts. Flight loads should improve over time, which will be crucial to making this route permanent.
A new route?
Many are hoping that this two-month repatriation Air India service makes way for eventual permanent flights between London and Kolkata. This comes as Air India is axing routes in Europe, preparing for a smaller international market in the coming years.
However, strong load factors and high revenues could push Air India to start the new service, as it has considered in the past. British Airways also has a codeshare with Vistara for connecting flights to Kolkata, both of whom could consider flights in the future. For now, all eyes will be on the performance of the VBM London route.
What do you think about Air India’s Kolkata route? Will it become a permanent route? Let us know in the comments!