Kolkata: The upcoming festive season appears to have led to the sudden rise in international flights on Sunday. Four flights carried home more than 350 passengers, the largest single-day count at Kolkata airport in three months.
The last time the airport had four international arrivals in a day was on June 30, days before the ban on international flights kicked in at Kolkata. In mid-August, international flights were again allowed, but only in the form of charters carrying passengers who tested Covid-negative. Between May 18 and July 5, the city airport had received 55 international flights.
On Sunday, an Air India flight arrived from London around 1.30am with 76 passengers. Two others followed in quick succession: a SpiceJet flight from Dubai and a Qatar Airways flight from Doha carrying 68 and 60 passengers respectively. Around 5am, an IndiGo charter flight carrying 155 passengers from Dubai reached the city airport. All passengers had undergone RT-PCR tests less than four days prior to departure and had boarded the flights after furnishing the Covid-negative reports. They all went to mandatory 14 days of home quarantine from the airport.
Two-thirds of the AI flight was empty while the SpiceJet and Qatar flights were half full. And while AI passengers did not have to shell out more as it is a regular flight, those who took the charter flights operated by SpiceJet and Qatar had to pay twice the usual amount. But that didn’t deter passengers desperate to return to their loved ones during Durga Puja.
Airline sources said several more charter flights — mostly from the Gulf — are planned over the next couple of weeks, but they are subject to approvals from the state. “There is another charter flight lined up on Tuesday. We have been notified of more flights in the coming week, but will get a confirmation only two days in advance once all the passengers provide Covid-negative reports and the airline gets an NOC from the state. But there is rising demand for flights to Kolkata and the spike in the number of flights in a day is a good sign for the sector,” said an IndiGo official.
The travel trade fraternity said the spike in air traffic showed how passengers are slowly getting their confidence in air travel back. “It is very good news for people stranded abroad, as well as for the economy dependent on the aviation sector. The current rush is driven by home-bound passengers before the Pujas,” said Anil Punjabi, the chairman (east) Travel Agents Federation of India.
Airport director Kaushik Bhattacharjee felt the growth could signal a revival of international traffic as the aviation sector slowly opens up across the world. “There is always an added rush during the festive season. But we hope this trend will continue,” he said.
Sunday also had two international departures. At 3.38am, the Qatar Airways flight to Doha left with 36 passengers while an Air India flight to London took off around 6.30am with 75 on board.