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International flights to and from Kolkata airport resume two years after Covid break

Dozen flights take off and an equal number land on Sunday; no connection to Europe or US

Sanjay Mandal | Published 28.03.22, 06:31 AM
Not too many passengers on the departure level, in front of the international section, of Kolkata airport on Sunday afternoon.

Not too many passengers on the departure level, in front of the international section, of Kolkata airport on Sunday afternoon.

Picture by Gautam Bose

The city’s air connectivity with abroad has not improved even as regular international flights resumed from Kolkata, as well as the rest of India, on Sunday after a two-year gap when regular services were suspended because of Covid.

A dozen international flights took off from and an equal number landed in the city on Sunday, airport officials said. None of the flights, the officials said, was from or to Europe and the US.

Before the pandemic forced the Centre to ban international flights in March 2020, around 20 international flights would take off from and a similar number land in Kolkata daily, officials said.

The number would remain around that even after a few more airlines resume operations in April, they said. 

The lone direct link to Europe when international flights were operating in an ‘air bubble arrangement’ during the pandemic, Air India’s weekly Kolkata-London flight, was not on the list.

“Now, there are around 14 international flights that will operate for the next few days. However, some of these will not be operating daily,” said C. Pattabhi, director of the Kolkata airport.

“There are some more flights that will be added to the summer schedule after a few weeks. The process of adding more flights will continue over the next few months,” said Pattabhi.

The summer schedule is followed till October, said officials.

“But till now, no new airline, none from Europe or the US, has approached us for slots to operate from Kolkata. Only those which were operating earlier are there,” said Pattabhi.

Among the international destinations where the airlines are flying from Kolkata are Dubai, Doha, Bangkok, Dhaka, Kathmandu and Hong Kong.

One new destination has been added to the list - Phuket in Thailand. “Go First is operating a direct flight between Kolkata and Phuket,” said an airport official.

An Air India spokesperson said the airline was not flying on the Kolkata-London route because of operational reasons.

Airport sources said the flight was having a good number of passengers but it would have been difficult to sustain it. “It is difficult for an international flight to survive by operating once a week,” said an airport official.  

European airlines like British Airways and Lufthansa, which used to operate direct flights from Kolkata, had withdrawn from the city years ago. The reason was lack of enough business class and first class passengers, who provide the yield for carriers flying to international destinations.

“Airlines across the world have suffered major financial losses (during the pandemic) and that could be one reason why no one is interested in exploring Kolkata. But it is also true that the situation here has not changed over the past few years. We still don’t have enough corporate passengers who could fill the flights to Europe or the US,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.

“Also, there is a perception that Kolkata and its airport are not functioning in a professional way,” said the official of an international airline that is now operating from the city.

“Operational charges are high and there are also functional issues. The immigration counters open an hour after check-in starts. So, passengers have to wait after checking in,” said the official.

An airport official said the issue would be sorted out soon.

Last updated on 29.03.22, 09:40 AM
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