At nearly 3.9 lakh, India saw its highest post-Covid daily domestic flyer number on December 26, 2021. By Tuesday (Jan 4), this figure had dropped by a lakh or almost 26 per cent to below the 3-lakh mark (2.9 lakh) after nearly two months (see box). On an average, about 4.2 lakh people used to fly within the country in pre-Covid times when peak winter travel season used to last till mid-January.
Senior airline officials say advance domestic bookings, for travel beyond a fortnight, are already down by upto 35 per cent and current by 20 per cent. The worst hit is metro-to-metro traffic due to the combined decline in business, leisure and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) trips.
Like everyone else, the struggling-to-survive travel industry is hoping Omicron will be a sharp and short burst in number of non-lethal cases. “ Events that were to be hosted in the near future are getting postponed by a couple of months but not cancelled as the experience of South Africa shows two things — Omicron cases plateau as fast as they rise and that this variant is infectious but less lethal (compared to delta),” a hotelier said.
But for now “the pick-up of business has slowed down since the last week of December. Hotels are seeing more than routine cancellations that are seen at any given period of time,” the hotelier added.
International travel is also getting impacted, and not just due to Omicron leading to an extended suspension of scheduled foreign flights. “A number of colleges abroad are giving the option for remote studies. As a result, scores of students who were to return to the US in time for college opening around mid-January are postponing their travel,” Travel Agent Federation of India joint secretary Anil Kalsi said.
Apart from this, workforce catching the virus is leading to foreign airlines cancelling flights due to crew shortage. Visa major VFS Global Tweeted Thursday: “We have temporarily suspended operations at our India passport and visa services centre in Sydney from January 10, 2022, until further notice owing to Covid-19 positive cases. All appointments that have been booked effective this date stand cancelled…”
German ambassador to India Walter J Lindner Tweeted Wednesday: “New Covid-19 wave also at German Embassy. Rising numbers of Indian and German colleagues in quarantine/self-isolation after testing positive or contact person. Back to A/B-teams, home office (if possible) and strict measures. We’ll all get through this! But again: masks, distance and vaccinations.”
“The German Consulate General is likewise affected by the new Covid surge and operations unfortunately might also be scaled down for the time being. We regret all the inconvenience caused in particular for the visa services,” Juergen Morhard, Consul General of Germany in Mumbai, tweeted.
Hong Kong has imposed restrictions on flights from several countries. Air India — the only Indian carrier flying there as of now — will not be operating flights to Hong Kong for about two weeks.