Saudi Arabia Halts Flights From India Amid COVID-19 Fears

Saudi Arabia has halted all flights to and from India over COVID-19 fears. It’s unclear how long flights will remain banned, but the move will impact thousands hoping to return to the Kingdom. The ban will affect Vande Bharat repatriation flights and private charter flights by IndiGo, SpiceJet, and more.

Air India Express 737
The ban will impact Vande Bharat flights by Air India and charter flights by private airlines. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Saudi Arabia bans flights

General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), Saudi’s aviation regulator, issued a notice on Tuesday banning flights from India, Brazil, and Argentina, according to the Times of India. The three countries listed are some of the worst-hit by COVID-19 and adding tens of thousands of cases daily.

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Saudia 777
Saudi Arabia only recently announced it would loosening border restrictions to allow foreigners to return. Photo: John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons

This ban comes just weeks after Saudi signaled it would lift its ban on entry of foreign nationals. The country suspended all international flights in early March and has since not allowed foreigners to return. The lifting of the ban would’ve been a boost to the many Indians wishing to return to the Kingdom.

India is currently home to thousands of people who live and work in Saudi Arabia and returned due to the pandemic. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Indian workers have been stranded in Saudi Arabia for months, requiring multiple rounds of repatriation flights from the country.

The only passengers still allowed to travel are those with an official government invitation. However, with no flights available, passengers will have to look for connecting alternatives instead.

India faces bans

Saudi Arabia is the only latest country in a string of bans over the last week. Air India Express faced a 24-hour ban from flying to Dubai after it knowingly flew in two COVID-19 positive patients. Similarly, Air India was once again suspended from flying to Hong Kong for two weeks due to six positive passengers onboard.

Air India
India has faced bans from three countries in the last week. Photo: Airbus

These cases came despite strict pre-flight testing requirements, forcing countries to ban Air India altogether. With the Saudi Arabia ban, Air India and AI Express will be unable to operate nearly 30 scheduled repatriation flights, according to The Hindu.

Charter flights, which have become popular during this pandemic, also stand canceled, affecting private carriers such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, and GoAir. These charter flights have become a lifeline for many during the pandemic due to the high volume of repatriation requests from the Middle East.

Restoring flights

While Saudi Arabia has not given a firm date on when flights will be restored, it will hopefully not take too long. However, India’s underlying issue remains the high rate of COVID-19 infections, without a reduction of which we will only see more passengers test positive, resulting in flight bans.

Airlines in India
International flights will struggle to gain ground if India sees too many positive cases. Photo: Getty Images

One solution could be airport pre-flight testing. Both Mumbai and Delhi airports are now offering COVID-19 tests for arriving passengers. Extending this to departing passengers might help restore confidence in international flights from India.

Have you taken a flight to or from India during the pandemic? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!