Indian Government Removes Its COVID Cap On Domestic Flights

The Indian government is set to remove restrictions on domestic flights, allowing airlines to return to pre-COVID capacity. From October 18th, airlines will not be subjected to any domestic capacity restrictions, which have been set at 85% since September and dropped as low as 50% this summer.

IndiGo Air India
India will remove its cap on domestic flights on October 18th. Photo: Getty Images

India lifts COVID cap on domestic flights

The Indian government has announced it will lift its COVID cap on domestic flights on October 18th. Restrictions have been in place in India since May 2020, with airlines forced to cap their domestic capacity to adhere to the rules.

The cap is currently set at 85% and will be removed entirely next week, enabling Indian carriers to operate at full capacity again. Airlines will not only be able to match their pre-COVID capacity but exceed it where there is demand.

Air India A320
The domestic capacity cap is currently set at 85%. Photo: Getty Images

The Indian government said in a statement,

“After review of the current status of Scheduled Domestic Operations viz-a-viz passenger demand for air travel in terms of the purpose specified in the initial order dated May 21, 2020… it has been decided to restore the scheduled domestic air operations with effect from October 18, 2021 without any capacity restriction.”

The COVID cap has been adjusted frequently since coming into force in May 2020. Initially, airlines were permitted to operate just one-third of their pre-pandemic levels. Now at 85%, the cap was set at 72.5% between August-September, 65% between July-August and 50% between June-July.

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Some restrictions will remain in place

While the capacity cap on domestic flights will be removed completely, airlines will still need to follow certain rules and practices to adhere to India’s travel regulations.

Firstly, minimum and maximum fare caps will remain in place. Fare caps, which were rolled out in May 2020, aim to protect passengers and airlines from unfair pricing strategies. While the government hinted last month it may do away with price caps entirely, they will stay in place for the time being.

SpiceJet 737
Fare caps will remain in place but could be gone by the end of the year. Photo: Getty Images

Pradeep Kharola, former secretary of India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, said last month,

“[Fare bands] will continue but in the last version we had made a significant change… The fare bands used to be applicable 30 days from today, but now we have come down to 15 days. Gradually, if you go on decreasing this — from 14 days, 13 days, 12 days — a day would come where fare bands would not be applicable. The process has started, but it will be a gradual one.”

Additionally, strict hygiene protocols will remain in airports and onboard flights to prevent the spread of COVID.

The Indian government added,

“The airlines/airport operators shall, however, ensure that the guidelines to contain the spread of COVID are strictly adhered to and COVID-appropriate behavior is strictly enforced by them during travel.”

When will international restrictions be lifted?

Despite opening up the domestic aviation market, there are still significant international restrictions in place in India. Presently, international travel is only permitted within air bubbles or as part of the Vande Bharat Mission, which allows repatriation flights.

IndiGo AirAsia Air India Delhi Airport
Airlines are hoping international restrictions will be lifted sooner rather than later. Photo: Getty Images

However, the Indian government is set to allow foreign tourists in on charter flights in October and non-charter flights from November. The government’s looser stance on domestic flights suggests that a full international reopening may not be far off.

Do you have any flights to (or within) India booked? Are you happy to see restrictions lifted? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.