Air India flies to London as BA flies off

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By SANJAY MANDAL
  • Published 28.02.09
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Air India will fill the breach when British Airways flies out of Calcutta next month, ensuring that the city stays connected to London.

The national carrier will reintroduce its Calcutta-London service, taken off the roster last October, on March 29 — the day British Airways operates its last flight on the route.

“It will be a daily service with a stopover in New Delhi,” a senior official of the airline confirmed on Friday.

The minimum introductory return fare for the Air India service will be lower than the British airline’s lowest fare on the route: Rs 25,500, inclusive of taxes, against approximately Rs 32,000.

According to officials, the hassle of a stopover in Delhi will be compensated for by the revised timings. One of the reasons for the “low load factor” that had prompted Air India to scrap the service last year was the London arrival time.

“The flight used to land at Heathrow after 9.30pm local time, by which time most flights out of London would have left. This meant that a transit passenger had to wait till the next day to catch a connecting flight,” said Anil Punjabi, the chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.

The Calcutta-Delhi-London flight is scheduled to touch down at Heathrow at 6pm local time.

“The preponed arrival time should solve the problem that passengers used to face. We expect the load factor to be higher, too,” Punjabi said.

An airline official said the stopover in Delhi was meant to ensure that the service remained viable. “It will be difficult to do reasonable business daily by operating a direct flight out of Calcutta. But if it goes via Delhi, we should be able to sustain a high load,” he explained.

The official reason for British Airways discontinuing its Calcutta-London service is, however, not low passenger traffic but “rationalisation of routes”.

The British airline has been operating three flights a week from Calcutta with an average passenger load factor of around 80 per cent.

Air India passengers from Calcutta will have to wait an hour after landing in Delhi before resuming the onward journey to Heathrow in a larger aircraft. “They will clear immigration and customs in Calcutta itself,” an official said.

The flight will take off from Calcutta at 10.30am every day and reach Delhi at 12.30pm.