Flight Plan

Get ready to buckle up

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on December 27, 2020

Fly me home: The number of domestic passengers is steadily increasing every month   -  THE HINDU/SAKEER HUSSAIN

A combination of factors such as contactless travel, non-stop routes and a Covid-19 vaccine will boost air travel in 2021

After an unprecedented year when all flights were suspended for two months and truncated domestic services started in May, Indian fliers may look forward to an improved situation in 2021. If domestic carriers are to be believed, there will be more flight options both domestically and internationally in the coming year.

IndiGo hopes to reach 100 per cent of its normal domestic capacity by early 2021 and 100 per cent of its international capacity by 2021-end, says the airline’s Chief Commercial Officer William Boulter.

At present, the government has allowed domestic airlines to operate up to 80 per cent of their pre-Covid-19 capacity. Some international flights under bubble arrangements with over 20 countries such as the United States and Germany are also operational. These are temporary arrangements between two countries for restarting commercial passenger services.

The industry believes that the news of a vaccine being ready for use in India by early next year will further propel the demand for air travel. “We have witnessed travel demand for ‘workations’, which have picked up as a promising domestic travel trend. We are bullish about the overall growth and demand for domestic travel,” Boulter adds.

Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan, too, points to positive trends in 2021, though with a word of caution. “Of course, things have started looking up. Travellers have become more confident of flying again and it may be safe to say that domestic air travel has entered a phase of recovery,” he says.

The number of domestic fliers, indeed, is steadily increasing every month. In November this year, domestic airlines flew 63.54 lakh passengers, up from 52.17 lakh passengers in October.

In another positive sign for Indian carriers, a recent customer survey by Vistara shows that 65 per cent of its customers will take their next flights by February 2021.

In keeping with this optimism, airlines are also finalising their expansion plans. Kannan told BusinessLine that by the end of 2021, Vistara aims at inducting all six Boeing 787-9 aircraft that it has purchased, apart from inducting more A-321 neo (New Engine Option) aircraft. “These aircraft will enable us to offer more non-stop, long-haul routes, the demand for which is expected to increase due to concerns of exposure to Covid-19 in transit,” Kannan says.

The one thing that will change completely next year, a sampling of which was experienced by passengers in 2020 when limited flights started operating, is contactless travel. This is the area where airports along with airlines are stepping up.

A spokesperson for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport Mumbai says that the airport is focusing on digital transformation to promote a contactless journey through the airport. The airport has QR-code based technological features at check-in kiosks enabling passengers to remote access the facility to complete their check-in process and generate their boarding passes and baggage tags.

According to the Bangalore International Airport Limited, biometrics and other such technology will continue to fuel more innovations. The DigiYatra Phase 1 process (for the digital processing of passengers) is already operational at the Bengaluru Airport. “We are also seeing significantly increased collaboration between airports and airlines on data sharing,” says an airport spokesperson.

IndiGo has also been selected for the pilot programme of initiating DigiYatra across four airports. Vistara has embraced new technology such as face recognition for boarding, self-check-in and self-drop of baggage. Fliers can expect all this and more in the future.

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Published on December 27, 2020
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