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Bangkok blip to holiday buzz Puja flights

- New flights set for Puja take-off to make up for April pullout

Bangkok is back as the airline favourite ahead of the Puja holiday season, with at least two new flights from Calcutta lined up to fill the void left by a series of withdrawals earlier this year.

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet is scheduled to start Calcutta-Bangkok flights in September while competitor IndiGo is planning to introduce its second daily flight on that route. Sources said both airlines were targeting holidaymakers during the festive period.

Bangkok’s return to favour comes within four months of AirAsia and Jet Airways withdrawing three flights from the route because of low yield and high operational costs.

“A vacuum was created in the sector after the withdrawal of three flights in April. We want to fill that void,” a SpiceJet official told Metro on Monday.

He said the airline would operate a Boeing 737 flight with seating for 189 passengers.

The pullout in April had reduced the number of seats on the Calcutta-Bangkok route from 1,120 to about 500. The addition of two flights will take the number of daily seats on offer to around 900.

Airport sources said Bangkok had always been a paying proposition for airlines during the festival season starting with Durga Puja. “On an average, more than 1,000 people travel from Calcutta to Bangkok every day during the festive period. “On some days, airlines operate additional flights or deploy larger aircraft to cope with the rush,” an official said.

During Puja, the passenger count on Calcutta-Bangkok flights is seen to increase by up to 20 per cent.

Bangkok remains one of the more popular holiday destinations not only because it’s a short flight away but also in terms of expenses. Travel operators say a holiday in Thailand works out cheaper than in some domestic destinations such as Rajasthan or Kerala. Another incentive is visa on arrival for Indian citizens, something that allows the tourist to make a last-minute decision.

The flow of tourists from Calcutta to Thailand had dropped more than 20 per cent after the military coup last May.

There were also demonstrations in many cities, including Bangkok. India soon issued a travel advisory warning tourists of the perils of travelling to those places.

Officials in the tourism ministry said Thailand had since returned to near-normality, making it a safe bet as a holiday destination during Puja and beyond.

IndiGo, which already operates a daily flight between Calcutta and Bangkok, is planning to have its second flight in the morning, airline officials said. The flight will have 180 seats.

AirAsia, which had withdrawn from the sector after Jet Airways, is also “looking at the route again”, a source said.

“An internal assessment is being conducted for the route,” the source said.

A spokesperson for the airline declined to comment. “At this moment, we are not saying anything,” she said.

Apart from IndiGo, Thai Airways and Bhutan Airlines, a subsidiary of Tashi Airways, have flights on the Calcutta-Bangkok sector.

In 2013-14, the average return fare offered by most airlines ranged between Rs 12,000 and Rs 14,000. Since the withdrawal of AirAsia and Jet Airways, the average return fare has shot up to around Rs 17,000, sources said.

Aviation officials blamed market saturation for the once highly profitable sector becoming the graveyard of full-service airlines.Budget carriers have survived because their operational cost is five to six per cent less than that of a full service carrier.

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