Kolkata To Allow International Charter Flights Over VBM Flights

Kolkata has moved to allow international charter flights after a ban on all international flights since July. The new rules mean that individuals can book charter flights with any airline, subject to approval, but Vande Bharat flights to the city remain banned. Kolkata has been wary of flights, previously also banning domestic flights from high-risk cities and instituting flight bans on specific days.

IndiGo A320neo
IndiGo has already planned three charter flights to Kolkata starting this week. Photo: Airbus

High demand for charters

Since the government’s announcement that international charter flights can fly to Kolkata, airlines have received numerous requests. IndiGo, which has a new charter operation, has already slotted in three flights from the UAE to Kolkata for August 13th to 15th.

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In a statement to the Times of India, an IndiGo official said the demand for charter is exceptionally high, with requests for up to 10 flights in August alone. Other carriers, including SpiceJet and Emirates, are both also looking to begin charter flights to access the Kolkata market.

The new A330neo for Hi Fly.
SpiceJet could team up with Hi Fly to fly repatriation flights to Kolkata. Photo: Hi Fly

SpiceJet could be a likely candidate to fly charter flights to Kolkata. The low-cost carrier is currently partnered with wet lease company Hi Fly to arrange repatriation flights to and from India.

Strict rules in place

While permission for charter flights has been given, the state government has laid out strict operating guidelines. All passengers boarding the flight must test negative for COVID-19 no more than 96 hours before the flight. Upon landing, any with symptoms will be taken to a medical facility while others must home quarantine for 14 days.

Kolkata Airport
Kolkata has laid out strict protocols for those returning from abroad. Photo: Getty Images

It is currently unknown how many charter flights will operate to Kolkata. First, airlines must get permission from the originating country, the Indian External Affairs Ministry, and the state government. For now, only three flights are on the schedule, but more are likely to be added soon.

Vande Bharat flights remain banned

While Kolkata has reopened international flights, Vande Bharat flights remain banned. The city was the first to ban international flights, on July 1st, after fears of rising COVID-19 cases. It is unclear why VBM flights are still banned while charters may operate, since similar medical screenings are followed for both (although VBM flights do need a COVID-19 test if the person accepts a 7-day institutional quarantine).

Air India 777Vande Bharat flights to Kolkata remain banned. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

While both VBM and charter flights are both special flights, there are no price caps on charter flights. This means anyone may book charter flights and airlines can set the price, which allows for as little as four people to book entire planes. Charter flights will definitely be pricier for those wishing to take them, but many are willing to pay after months of being away from home.

What do you think about Kolkata’s plans? Let us know in the comments.