MUMBAI: Two years ago, when the government banned scheduled international flights, Terminal 2 at Mumbai Airport saw an overnight change. The place has gone from a bustling passenger airport to an abandoned and deserted looking airport. On Sunday, when the ban was finally lifted, the airlines and its allied industry must have breathed a collective sigh of relief even though there were no discernible changes at the terminal to mark the end of the restriction period.
On March 8, the government announced its decision to lift the ban. Airlines will take time to ramp up operations.
“The airport handled around 109 international arrivals and departures on Sunday, the first day of resuming scheduled flights,” a spokesperson for Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) said.
Until Saturday, when international flights were operated under the “bilateral air bubble agreement”, the airport handled an average of just 98 international flights a day.
The first international arrival was Indigo 6E-9183 from Sharjah which landed at 00:17 with 172 passengers on board. The first international departure was operated by Thai Smile, flight WE-338 to Phuket, which took off at 12:29 p.m. with 45 passengers.
Among the passengers who disembarked on the first day were Rea and Cédric Marboeuf, frequent travelers even during the pandemic.
“There are tourists on flights now and more passengers on board, both a sign of things getting back to normal,” the couple said. Arjun Kumar (name changed on request), an economics student at a university in Manchester, flew from the UK via Dubai on Emirates.
Under earlier bubble deal standards, airlines were supposed to carry passengers “point-to-point” only. Kumar should have flown from Manchester to London and then taken a flight to Mumbai. Also, with the opening of the public transport option, fares have come down. Kumar also flew to India in June last year. He had boarded an Air India flight from London to Mumbai and returned on British Airways and paid a total of Rs 85,000 for the round trip. “This time the fare cost Rs 70,000,” he said.
More importantly, last time he had to self-quarantine upon arrival. “I didn’t know it and the seven-day quarantine in a hotel was an unexpected and heavy expense,” he said. Amrut Bawane and Soham Kulkarni, who flew Air India from Sharjah, said nothing had changed. “We filled in the Air Suvidha form, showed the vaccination certificates,” they said.
IndiGo said in a statement that it would restart scheduled operations on more than 150 routes on a phased basis in April. Among international destinations, the airline will serve Dammam, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Jeddah, Riyadh, Doha, Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore, Colombo, Dubai, Kathmandu, Maldives and Dhaka.
“Flights to these routes were previously operating under air bubble agreements with the respective countries. Regular operations from/to destinations in Thailand have already started from March 27. The resumption of these flights will enhance the India’s connectivity with the world and will help accelerate economic and tourism activities that had been affected by the pandemic,” the airline said.