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Airlines based in India have resumed domestic flight bookings as early as 16th May despite DGCA’s advice. The aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has advised airlines that a decision to restart flights has not been taken yet.

Background

Indian-based carriers, Spicejet and GoAir, started accepting bookings from 16th May. Other carriers IndiGo and Vistara decided to resume bookings for departures from 1st June. This comes even as DGCA has pulled up airlines for accepting flight bookings as the country is under a COVID-19 lockdown. Air India however, has not yet reopened flight bookings. The government on 25th March put in place a lockdown across the country banning the movement of people and a travel ban. It planned to curb the spread of coronavirus.

IndiGo A320s parked at IGIA, Delhi

Easing of restrictions

Private carriers including Air India opened flight bookings last week and drew aviation ministry’s ire. The ministry released a stong notice and barred airlines from accepting any bookings. However, last Saturday, the central government decided to ease restrictions for certain businesses. Airlines trapped under a heavy financial burden and negative balance sheets took advantage of easing restrictions as a sign to start bookings. It is unclear if the flights would take-off as the lockdown ends on 3rd May. The government is yet to decide on reopening airports and allow airlines to fly.

Confusion over refunds

Post lockdown, airlines created a credit shell for passengers whose tickets have been cancelled. A passenger could use the credit shell for up to one year. This created confusion as flyers wanted a full refund in cash considering Jet Airways collapse when passengers lost money. After filing public-interest litigations in the supreme court, it ordered the government to direct airlines to refund passengers fully in cash.

IndiGo ATR 72-600 ©Flickr

The government hence has asked airlines to refund passengers for bookings made for departures between 25th March to 3th May. 

The primary source of revenue for airlines is ticket bookings. To reduce the burden, airlines are trying to minimise losses by introducing pay cuts and sending employees on leave without pay. IATA estimated that the aviation industry in India would likely face three million job losses.

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