Christmas has replaced the Pujas as the biggest holiday season of the year, going by the flight bookings in the run-up to New Year.
Most international flights out of Calcutta have no seats left till December 30. Even business class seats are full, prompting Emirates to downgrade the ticket of a passenger who had booked a premium berth.
Industry insiders have attributed the rush during the Christmas-New Year season to longer school holidays and a prolonged spell of political peace in Thailand, a sought-after holiday destination.
A couple who wanted to go to Thailand failed to get seats, including in the business class, on any Bangkok-bound flight of Thai Airways.
A Thai Airways flight has 39 business class and 254 economy class seats.
"Till December 30, there are no seats in both classes on Bangkok-bound flights," said Vichaya Singtoroj, the general manager of Thai Airways in Calcutta.
In response to the rush, Qatar Airways is flying a bigger aircraft with 110 additional seats on the Calcutta-Doha route.
Calcutta resident Jennifer Wahab had planned a winter vacation in Thailand with her husband and their 12-year old daughter from December 24 to 30. The plan had to be scrapped as the family did not get bookings on any flight.
"We told Thai Airways that we were ready to buy business-class tickets but they couldn't give us a single seat. Over the past five years we have been holidaying abroad during winter. This was the first time such a thing happened," Jennifer said.
Till the tickets were available on Thai Airways flights, economy fares (Bangkok, round trip) were as high as around Rs 30,000, compared with the average of Rs 16,000 to Rs 18,000.
Flights are full in other sectors, too. Emirates - which flies on the Calcutta-Dubai route twice a day, six days a week - has 42 business-class seats in the morning flight and 26 in the evening flight.
Sources said the business-class seats in the morning flights are 85 per cent full. On the evening flights, the business class is full on most days till December 30.
Qatar Airways, despite introducing a bigger aircraft, is flying full, an official of the airline said. "Most passengers are going beyond Doha, to Europe or the US," the official said.
Dragonair, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, is flying "almost full" in the Calcutta-Hong Kong sector. A Calcutta-Hong Kong return ticket in the economy class is selling for Rs 44,000, against the usual price of Rs 30,000.
"The Pujas, a traditional tourist season, have not been selling much over the past couple of years. The winter holiday season has taken the place of the Pujas. Earlier, most outbound flights on all sectors had many empty seats in December," said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.
The Calcutta market, he pointed out, still depends on seasonal and leisure traffic on international routes. "Round-the-year demand for premium seats still eludes the market."
Earlier, the international winter traffic in Calcutta was mostly inbound.
"Calcuttans staying abroad usually return home in December. The outbound flights used to get filled up in the first week of January, when these people would return to their place of stay," an industry insider said.
One reason for the high demand of seats on outbound flights is longer school holidays in winter. Schools now close early for the winter recess, in the second week of December.
The other reason, the source said, was political peace in Thailand. "People were avoiding Thailand because of political unrest and blasts. The situation has changed for better over the past few months.... Also, the trend of spending Christmas in Europe has picked up."