India and Qatar have extended their “travel bubble” agreement through July. The agreement expired at the end of June, resulting in some flights being canceled yesterday. However, the government promptly renewed the agreement on Thursday and is allowing flights to operate this month as well.
According to Moneycontrol, India and Qatar’s travel bubble agreement formally expired on 30th June. While the agreement has routinely been extended every month since it began in mid-August, this time it was allowed to lapse.
This led to confusion among passengers and airlines on Thursday morning, with some airlines reportedly canceling morning flights due to the lack of clarity. Since India continues to ban all scheduled international flights, only repatriation or travel bubble flights can operate.
However, the situation was quickly rectified. By the early evening, the Indian Embassy in Qatar confirmed that the travel bubble had been extended through July. This meant flights can continue operating as normal and there would be no disruptions. It’s unclear why the bubble was allowed to expire in the first place.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
When India faced a massive wave of cases in April and May, many airlines pulled passenger flights due to the crisis. This resulted in a sharp drop in connectivity for passengers, especially those flying to Africa and South America. Only Qatar Airways continued to connect passengers from India, requiring a negative test to do so.
This likely allowed thousands of travelers to return home at a time when options were severely limited. For instance, Emirates and Etihad both stopped carrying passengers from India due to the new variants and government restrictions. With European airlines tightening rules too, Qatar’s flights were key to helping many to return home.
For now, Qatar Airways plans to continue serving India for connecting travelers, with entry into Qatar currently banned. However, there are several restrictions still in place for the airline under the travel bubble agreement.
Under India’s travel bubble rules, Qatar Airways cannot connect passengers beyond Doha. The only exceptions are made for routes to Africa and South America, since those are underserved markets from India. However, for the carrier’s usually-bustling flights to Europe and the US, the government has banned all services.
Instead, India has formed travel agreements with airlines in different regions to ensure flights and prop up its own carriers. North America, Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East all have at least one airline serving direct flights to India, ensuring that those who need to return may do so.
For all other cities, passengers must fly Air India under the Vande Bharat Mission. This includes destinations like Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and many more. For now, there seems to be no appetite to restore regular flight links from India.