Additional expenses like Covid tests and insurance premiums and frequently changing health and travel norms continue to make international travellers feel apprehensive and so despite several new routes opening up from Kolkata, the bookings are low.
Tour operators said high fares due to less number of flights along with the additional costs were keeping many fliers waiting to make the bookings for international travel.
India has announced resumption of international commercial flights from December 15. However, the civil aviation ministry said 14 countries designated by the health ministry to be at risk, and with whom there is an existing air bubble agreement, would be allowed to resume 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations (or a minimum of seven frequencies per week).
A Kolkata airport official said they were expecting an increase in the number of international flights from Kolkata after the announcement.
“We are expecting more flights in a week to destinations like Dubai. There would be some more flights resuming from Kolkata,” said the official.
However, several travel agents said because of the additional expenses and confusions over changing protocols they were apprehensive about bulk international travels immediately.
“At the moment only those who have compulsions like students are making international travels. Due to the additional costs of Covid protocol and high fares, the queries for travel during Christmas holidays are more but actual bookings are far less,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India. “Also, there are changing protocols at some countries which are causing packages to fluctuate and adding to the confusion,” he said.
Among the added expenses, which were not there during the pre-Covid times, are the Covid tests a flier now has to undergo.
A flier to Dubai has to undergo an additional Rapid PCR test at Kolkata airport before boarding the flight that costs Rs 4,000 along with the routine RT-PCR test that has to be conducted within 72 hours of the journey.
“A passenger who wants to travel to Canada’s Ottawa has to spend around Rs 11,000 for a Covid test,” said a travel agent in Kolkata.
“The passenger, who was planning a visit to his family members there, is now deferring the travel because it would be an additional expenditure because he would be travelling with his wife and two children,” said the agent.
Along with the tests, buying insurance coverage has also become mandatory for all international travellers.
“On an average, a passenger has to pay Rs 1,000 as premium for Covid health insurance which can go up depending on age and duration of stay. Earlier, the health insurance coverage was not mandatory for most countries,” said Amin Asgar, director of A&A Travel Zone Pvt Ltd.
Tour operators said there are mandatory hotel stays in some countries after arrival for the period till the Covid test results are out.
Some countries have seven to ten days of quarantine programmes.
“Add to these, the very high fares on several routes because of low number of seats. If some commercial flights resume and seats increase from December 15, then we can expect the fares to go down,” said Asgar.
Another additional expense could be for passengers who are planning to travel to Singapore from Kolkata. The city is not in the list of Vaccine Travel Lane of Singapore government unlike Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. So, one has to undergo quarantine for seven days upon arriving in Singapore.
“So the few who are planning to travel to Singapore want to go through Delhi or Chennai for which an additional cost of Rs 4,000 to Rs 7,000 for one way would be added in the domestic sector,” a tour operator said.