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The planes are ready for more flights - but will India finally give the go ahead? Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Will India finally open up its skies from December 15? Or will the Omicron variant further delay the full return of international flights?

Because on that decision will depend whether UAE-India flight ticket rates will stay at current high levels or drop by 10-20 per cent on the return of full services. Because in recent weeks, rates have gone well past Dh3,000 and flights from Dubai to in-demand destinations in India.

Even though India has said that December 15 could see the return of full services, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation in a circular last week said: “An appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course.”

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Indian expats delay decisions

UAE’s Indian expats who were planning trips back home are having second thoughts as India tightens COVID-19 measures across its airports. “People who booked for the third week of December are waiting – they expect India to put some quarantine measures,” said Suraj Ramesh from Al Badie Travel Agency and Tourism.

“They are skeptical about going to India now, unless it is an emergency – school holidays are supposed to start from December 16th onwards, but passengers have a lot of doubts about flying this time.”

Thousands of expats were stranded in India earlier this year when a second-wave of the COVID-19 virus prompted the UAE to suspend inbound flights from the country. “This has been playing on their minds,” said Ramesh.

Dipika Dass, an Abu Dhabi-based resident, flew to India early last month to meet up with family. “I am glad I went before the emergence of this new Covid variant – I will not be making another trip until the situation becomes better.”

Dass visited her family for the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020. “It was great traveling after a long gap – unfortunately, in the post-pandemic world, such opportunities are far and few.”

Tourist numbers

Whatever be the flight situation, it looks like tourist numbers from UAE’s largest source market will not diminish any time soon. Indian tourist arrivals have been consistently high through recent months, set off initially by the IPL cricket matches held here, and followed by the cricket World Cup T20. 

Fares remain high

Apart from restrictions, the ultra-high ticket rates would be enough to put anyone off travel plans. Fares between UAE and India have been hitting the Dh3,000 mark over the last week, especially on the Dubai-Delhi and Dubai-Mumbai routes, as demand outpaced available seat capacity.

New guidelines

A new set of guidelines for passengers has been announced by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) for international passengers arriving in the country.

The new guidelines, announced on November 30, supersedes an earlier set of announced on November 11 and November 28, following concerns related to the latest COVID-19 variant.

Before a flight, passengers must do the following:

• Submit a self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal.

• Upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) report. This test should have been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey.

• Each passenger should also submit a declaration with respect to the authenticity of the report and will be liable for criminal prosecution, if found otherwise.

• They should also give an undertaking on the portal or otherwise to Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, through concerned airlines before they are allowed to undertake the journey that they would abide by the decision of the appropriate government authority to undergo home/institutional quarantine/ self-health monitoring, as warranted.

• Travellers from certain specified countries (based on the epidemiological situation of COVID-19 in those countries) are identified for additional follow up. As of November 26, the 'at risk' countries are those in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel. Of these, some European countries (including the UK, Germany, Spain and Belgium), South Africa, Israel and Hong Kong have confirmed Omicron cases.