Air India Eyes Huge London Repatriation Effort In October

Air India is expanding it’s London services this October, flying direct flights from 10 Indian cities. A number of cities will see direct services that usually do not, such as Kolkata, Goa, Kochi, and more. With tough competition from British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Vistara, the flag carrier is capitalizing on repatriation traffic to smaller cities.

Delhi Airport Air India
Air India will fly directly between 10 Indian cities and London. Photo: Getty Images

Massive London schedule

The special London flights will operate from October 1st to 24th under the Vande Bharat repatriation mission. The carrier usually flies to London from five popular cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Amritsar. From these hubs, Air India runs feeder flights to several other Indian cities.

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This time around, Air India is doubling its direct destinations, adding flights from Goa, Kochi, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata. With this, the carrier will fly from London to 10 Indian cities, handily beating the competition.

Air India 787
.The new services remove the need for long layovers in major airports, reducing possible virus exposure. Photo: Getty Images

A few possible reasons for this are increased demand and potential virus exposure. The fall and winter are usually popular travel times, with students and holidaymakers taking international flights. Air India could be jumping on the opportunity to carry more passengers, even though leisure travel is likely quite sluggish.

Another positive is the removal of layovers for passengers connecting to domestic destinations. Since international flights usually land in hub cities, at times many passengers must wait hours before connecting onward, which increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. With direct flights, passengers need not worry about this.

Tough competition

India recently signed a travel bubble agreement with the UK, which has allowed both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to operate flights to India. Vistara, too, has taken advantage of this agreement and started flights to London. This sudden competition on a route that Air India had a monopoly on just a few months ago has forced the flag carrier to get creative.

Virgin Atlantic, Trent 1000, Boeing 787
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have both resumed flights to India, giving Air India some competition on London routes. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Air India is making use of its ability to rapidly add flights from non-hub Indian cities. While the competition flies to the likes of Delhi and Mumbai, Air India can capture the market to cities such as Amritsar and Kochi. This gives passengers direct options and the chance to avoid domestic connections.

Vande Bharat carries on

These flights are still a part of the Vande Bharat mission, even though they carry more than just repatriation passengers. With the establishment of the travel bubbles, air traffic from select countries seems to be returning to normalcy. However on many routes Air India is still the only option, since scheduled flights remain banned.

Air India
Air India is flying a number of repatriation flights from around the world. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

For now, India is likely to limit the total number of flights through travel bubbles and Air India will continue repatriation flights. However, with demand increasing, India could be looking to ink more travel agreements or even restart scheduled flights.

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