|A British Airways plane at Heathrow Airport and (top) the busy check-in counters at the same airport
It was a rule without exceptions. Anyone flying to London in December ' the peak holiday season ' had to pay big bucks. That’s if they ever got a reservation on the heavily overcrowded sector.
How times have changed! This season, you could not only get a ticket but they were selling at bargain basement prices. And, the experts predict that the smooth run to London will continue for the foreseeable future.
The fact is that there have never been so many connections to hot and happening London. There’s a choice of airlines ' foreign and domestic ' to pick from. And these have come attendant with early bird offers going from amazingly low introductory fares to ‘companion free’ deals. New airlines have taken off on the route while existing airlines have increased frequencies between India and the UK. Subhash Goyal, travel industry guru and CEO, STIC Travels says, “The Delhi-London sector is one on which daily flights are available from over two dozen airlines.” This includes Lufthansa, KLM, Air India, Royal Jordanian, Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, SriLankan Airlines and many more besides.
Just take a look: British Midland began operations in May last year with four flights a week between Mumbai and London. Come April 22 and this will be converted to a daily connection. Air-India also increased frequencies and added three flights from Delhi to Birmingham (a three-hour drive from London) to its timetable. Virgin Atlantic has increased the number of flights from 10 to 14 on the India-UK route. This was achieved by launching daily connections on the Mumbai-London-Mumbai sector (up from three flights a week). British Airways meanwhile doubled its frequency from Mumbai to London in December. The winter schedule also saw private airlines Jet Airways and Air Sahara take off for London. And now, Indian Airlines and Kingfisher too have plans to fly to the UK.
Says Ankur Bhatia, executive director, The Bird Group, “London has always been one of the most preferred leisure travel destinations from India. However, the potential on the India-UK sector was under-served till last year due to lack of direct flights.” He adds that with increased frequencies and new airlines/domestic carriers plying on the route, carriers too will grab a large share of the air travel pie.
The trigger for all this activity in the skies was the Air Services Agreement signed between India and the UK last year. The agreement enables airlines of both the UK and India to expand operations of passenger services as well as open up new routes. “The agreement will ensure that direct services between India and the UK are set to increase manifold,” emphasises Goyal. He adds, “The aviation sector is doing very well and registers near 25 per cent growth annually. With many more airlines flying to India in the near future, competition among them will hot up.” So you can rest assured that reduced fares and promotional schemes are here to stay.
In addition, there are the new airlines which are working extra-hard to win over flyers. If you were an early bird, you might’ve grabbed the luscious Air Sahara offer that closed on January 6. To commemorate the New Year, the airline offered 2,006 tickets on the Delhi-UK route for a throwaway Rs 10,000 (excluding taxes). The tickets are valid till January 6, 2007. The airline now flies on the route four days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and the return fare on Economy is around Rs 17,000 (with an extra Rs 7,000 in taxes). Jet Airways just closed its offer of a Delhi-London return of Rs 18,000, though the ticket is valid till March 31.
There’s more: British Airways is offering the journey at Rs 14,500 and the new entrant flying Indian skies, British Midland (BMI) too has a hot deal on. But quick action is the name of the game as the BMI offer is valid till the end of this month. The Economy Class fare is Rs 14,065 (exclusive of taxes) and the ticket must be booked by February 28 while travel must be completed before May 31. The regular fare on Premium Economy is Rs 38,800 (plus taxes) and Rs 91,000 on Business Class. While Premium Economy has a dedicated crew, Business Class comes with a chef on board. Says Shiela Mehra of BMI, “Our focus is as much the leisure segment as the corporate traveller.” She adds that the airline will soon also connect UK with other Indian cities.
And while Virgin has beefed up operations and now connects Delhi and Mumbai daily to London, it is reviewing fares. Currently, you can fly to London for Rs 20,000 (Economy return, taxes included) to and from Mumbai and Rs 24,000 to Delhi (Economy return, taxes included). “In the current scenario and with changing market dynamics, we’re reviewing our fare structure,” says Joe Thompson, general manager India, Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Bhatia looks ahead, “The civil aviation industry is doing very well. Low-cost airlines, discounted fares, promotional offers, bilateral agreements and increased frequency of flights to new destinations are expected to maintain the growth in air traffic with the sector expected to grow at an exceptional rate in the coming years.”
My favourite holiday
My career takes me all over the world. Now I’ve seen many places but the one place I know I’d never tire of visiting over and over again is Spain. What a beautiful and vibrant country! And though it’s wonderfully clean like any other European city, in some ways it resembles Calcutta a lot. I guess it has to do with the fact that the people over there are so warm and friendly. Moreover they love culture, are loud and shout out to each other.
I visited Spain in 1994. It was a working vacation since I performed at Toledo. I was there for a little over a week and managed to pack in trips to Barcelona, Oviedo and Malaga as well. While in Malaga, I picked up the famous Malaga red wine. Now I’m a non-drinker but the flavour of Malaga wine is something else! What I also loved about the country is its cuisine. Being a sea-food lover I was thrilled by the fact that they seem to put prawn and lobster in almost everything they make. One dish that I particularly enjoyed was Poijo, a sort of lobster biryani made with olive oil and herbs. Simply delicious! All in all, with the exception of home, give me Spain over any other place, any day!
Star Cruises, the brand new entrant on Indian waters is leaving no stone unturned in luring holidaymakers on four-night cruises to Goa and Lakshadweep. SuperStar Libra, that sets sail from Mumbai, is full of great packages and fares. Honeymooners are being offered a 25 per cent discount on the normal fare (on twin sharing) if they book their trips before February 28. They can also expect their cabin to be decorated with balloons on departure day, sparkling wine, one in-cabin breakfast and a dinner free of charge. This special offer is valid for travel till March 26. The Senior Citizen offer (for those above 55-years) gives a 50 per cent fare cut on the companion ticket. This is valid till April 27 and bookings can be made till April 10.
The school and college group offer is by far the most tempting, as the third and fourth traveller goes free on-board. The offer is applicable on group bookings for students on a minimum of 11 cabins. While the cruise is open till April 9, the last booking date is March 15. All offers are valid on inside staterooms, Oceanview staterooms and deluxe Oceanview staterooms (Rs 18,300-Rs 33,900 per head). Contact: 9831859679.