Why Are Flights From India To The UK And US So Expensive Right Now?

If you’re looking for an international flight from India to the US or UK right now, pickings are slim. With only a handful of flights on offer, prices have increased exponentially in recent days due to surging demand. With a one-way to the US currently peaking at ₹400,000 ($5,400) and to the UK at ₹232,000 ($3,124), why are tickets so expensive? Let’s find out.

Air India Boeing 787
Airlines are desperate to add more capacity, but the government has taken control of flight caps during the pandemic and refuses to ease restrictions. Photo: Getty Images

The situation

The fall is a busy travel season for international airlines flying from India. With hundreds of thousands of students making their way to the US or UK for university in August and September, airlines are prepared for a sharp increase in demand. To lure students and their families, carriers put out special offers, including discounts and extra baggage, and increase their revenues.

Fast forward to August 2021 and passengers are in trouble. Since July, ticket prices to the US have spiraled out of control. Depending on dates and demand, a usual one-economy ticket from Delhi to New York in August can cost anywhere from ₹40,000 to ₹90,000. This is the peak of university travel to the US, with fall terms starting in late August.

However, looking at flights today, the prices are very different. The cheapest direct flight in mid or late August at the time of writing from DEL-NYC stands at ₹296,000 ($4,000) on 21st August. This is far higher than the ₹135,000 peak pricing that can be found in most years. This is despite Air India adding more last-minute flights to meet demand.

United 787-10
Only United and Air India fly directly to the US currently, adding further pressure on prices. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The UK is seeing a similar rise in prices. Last week’s amber list move combined with college travel means that ticket prices have surged. In August, a one-way ticket from New Delhi to London costs ₹121,000 ($1,629), drastically higher than the ₹40,000 ($538) prices seen on this bustling route. Prices jump as high as ₹395,000 ($5,320) on select dates, while other dates see the six-figure barrier broken.

But why are passengers facing these ridiculously high costs?

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Government control

The most obvious explanation for this situation is supply and demand. As passenger appetite for flights increases quickly, airlines price up their limited inventory to meet the surge. This would make sense, given flights to the US and UK in August are only available in business class on some dates due to economy being sold out.

However, this is not the reason right now. Instead, India’s ban on international flights is currently driving this increase in prices. Due to “travel bubble” restrictions, passengers are unable to take connecting flights from the usual hubs in Europe or the Middle East, increasing pressure on the limited direct flights available.

Air India Boeing 777-300ER
Air India has ramped up US flights this week but nowhere near enough to service the current demand. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

This is what has led to a huge increase in prices to the US, especially given that the market suffers from a shortage of direct flights. With only United and Air India flying direct routes, seats remain extremely limited. Both carriers had scaled back service due to the US travel ban in May, and Air India is only flying half of its pre-ban capacity even today.

While a few new options have opened up in recent weeks, including Lufthansa, prices show no signs of dropping in the critical few weeks before the school term starts. The easiest way out of the pricing crisis and helping passengers would be for the government to allow transit through the Middle East and Europe, but this would hurt state-run Air India.

Tighten

The UK has been hit with a confluence of factors, driving up prices. On 4th August, the UK officially moved India from the red list to the amber list, allowing nonessential travel to restart and removing a cost hotel quarantine for passengers. Considering the ban has been in place since late April, pent-up demand has been massive.

However, all of this demand has hit a brick wall in India’s cap on UK flights. These caps were first instituted in January after the Alpha variant was detected in the UK and India looked to restrict travel. However, since then, Delta has emerged in India and become the dominant strain in both countries. With a measly 30 weekly flights, capacity has been filled in the last 72 hours alone.

Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350, Caribbean
Virgin Atlantic has seen its Delhi flights sell out for most of August, further reducing capacity. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Currently, a one-way flight from Delhi to London in August will cost passengers ₹121,000 ($1,629). This is even before the peak of university travel, which usually commences in early September for most. This has led to fears that prices will quickly reach the US levels in the coming days. However, the government has made it clear that it doesn’t plan to provide any reprieve and has instead blamed airlines for increasing prices on high-demand flights.

Rather bizarrely, the government’s view is that ₹103,000-₹121,000 is an acceptable price for a standard economy ticket, and no relaxation is needed. Airlines have been trying to increase capacity but have run into the government caps repeatedly, hurting passengers the most in this process.

Transit stop

While the government sticks to its own restrictive policies, passengers still need to find a way to fly to the US or UK. The easiest solution would be to make a transit stop in a third country. This requires passengers to complete immigration, exit the airport, and then check-in again for their separate flight. While this is less convenient than a single itinerary, it will save passengers thousands of dollars.

British Airways, Boeing 787, Short Haul
Airlines will continue to sell high-priced tickets until more flights can become available to the public. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Several countries have opened their border to India in recent weeks, leaving no shortage of transit stops. From the Maldives to Switzerland to Mexico, passengers have several options to make a detour and then get on a different flight. For now, UK or US travel options remain limited, leaving thousands with only expensive or cumbersome travel options.

What do you think about the current increase in ticket prices? What else has caused this? Have you been affected? Let us know in the comments!

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