Did you fly on an international repatriation flight launched under Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) by the Government of India and felt you paid more?
Paid More? Here’s Why
Launched last April, these flights ferried people who were stranded overseas due to pandemic restrictions to come back to the country. National carrier Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir, Vistara and among others who have flown passengers under this mission to bring back people, many of whom felt they paid more for being on the flight.
Business Today reported that though the Vande Bharat Mission has done well, it has come at a hefty cost for the stranded passengers. How?
In a reply to the Lok Sabha, Union Civil Aviation Ministry said that the higher fares on flights operated during VBM are due to a variety of reasons. The ministry said that VBM flights carry just one-way traffic due to visa restrictions.
Then, many of the points where Air India is operating VBM flights are not regular points, and therefore, the national carrier had to sign short-term contracts for handling these flights at those stations. As a general rule, short-term contracts are priced higher than normal contracts, Business Today reported.
“The COVID situation [has] added to the cost of operation towards PPE [personal protective equipment] kits, new guidelines for ground handling, sanitisers etc. Additional cost due to extra-precautions taken in view of operating under COVID conditions for the crew and passengers. Turnaround time was more at many places due to restrictions on crew and pilots, and additional seat blocks for extra set of crew due to no layover at the destination stations,” the ministry reply said.
Vande Bharat Flights: One-way Return Flights
The ministry also said that the VBM fares are all one-way fares, which are generally higher than return fares. Air India, for instance, is charging fares between Rs. 3,20,078 (first class) and Rs. 51,341 (economy class) for one-way direct flight between Delhi to New York. However, with the introduction of air bubble arrangements with various countries since July, the VBM fares have started to come down.
So far, over 2.21 million passengers have been repatriated by Air India Group alone across eight phases in a total of 16,306 flights. The 9th phase of VBM has just concluded that covered 24 countries such as Australia, Canada, US, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, and others. The details of this phase are awaited.
The Business Today report said that it’s pretty clear that the number of passengers flying out of the country is lesser than the people flying back to India. Hence, the return flights between two locations (under VBM) have fewer passengers than the usual flights between those locations, and as a result, the flying passengers are burdened with higher fares.
On Wednesday, February 10, 2020 the Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Tweeted that more than 5.5 million people have returned from different parts of the world. The minister shared the information along with the pictures showing the statistics of the returnees. The Union Minister stated that the aviation team has continued reaching out to more people through 24 air bubble arrangements.
The Vande Bharat Mission started in early May (2020) to evacuate Indians stranded anywhere in the world due to the coronavirus pandemic has entered into its 10th phase. The current repatriation exercise of bringing home Indian nationals is taking place under the Government of India’s flagship ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. To bring back the Indian nationals from foreign countries amid the pandemic outbreak, Aviation Ministry joined hands with the private agencies as well.
Earlier, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also lauded the largest repatriation mission of its kind and the efforts of the Aviation Ministry of the country. Social media users have also request the repatriation exercise from a few other countries including South Africa, Saudi Arabia and others.