Flying in a bubble: Travel corridors are the future of flights, for now

Flying in a bubble: Travel corridors are the future of flights, for now



Flying in a bubble: Travel corridors are the future of flights, for now

Posted by: Mahendra Venkatesh

Air Bubble Flights Details

Air bubble flights announced by India: But what are they? 

India has announced air bubble flights to various countries during the unprecedented pandemic. On 16 July 2020, the Civil Aviation Minister of India, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced on Twitter that India has entered into bilateral agreements with France and US for International Air Bubbles. Since then, the Indian government has signed multiple International Air Travel Bubble agreements with multiple nations, the latest one being with Germany. Currently, the air travel bubble agreement covers countries such as US, UK, UAE and more.

Let us try to understand what International Air Travel Bubble means and its significance in such dire situations.

What is an air travel bubble? How does it work?

An air travel bubble is a travel corridor between the two countries who have agreed to open their borders for each other. This partnership usually happens between countries that have good trust on each other’s testing numbers or have controlled the spread of the novel virus. 

Which other countries are being considered by India for international air bubble?

India is considering quite a lot more countries, which include air travel bubble agreement with Japan and some of the neighboring countries.

Does this mean people can travel to these countries? 

Yes, people can now travel to all the countries with which the Indian government has entered into an International Air Bubble agreement. However, it is to be taken care of that the international flights have still not started overall and flights are plying only because of the agreement, and that too in a limited capacity. However, it is changing and many countries are slowly announcing flights to and from their nations. 

Who are allowed to take these flights? 

Since these flights are plying as per the agreement hence, there are different conditions for travelling to different countries. While for some countries, the Indian national needs to have a visa of at least one month (other than tourism purpose), countries such as UAE has allowed tourists holding student, business or work visa. One important thing to note that such travels will be done entirely at the risk of the individual travelling. Also, people who belong to the country they are travelling don’t have to fulfill such conditions except the medical and safety protocols which should otherwise also be followed. 

What is the number of flights agreed to and from the nations the agreement has been signed with? 

The number of flights operating between countries is significantly increasing with each passing days. The number of flights to Germany is 9 from 18 August to 31 August. Whereas the number of flights to Canada and USA shall be 16 and 78 respectively. The numbers of flights to the USA are quite high compared to other states because of the major number of Indian population that works/studies in that country. 

Here are the number of flights operating to other countries India has signed International Air Travel Bubble agreement with:

  • • France: 6 flights
  • • Germany: 8 flights
  • • Kuwait: 33 flights
  • • Maldives: 4 flights
  • • UAE: 165 flights

The number of flights is only indicating the number of flights going out of India, you can expect a similar number of flights coming to India from these countries. However, the official number of the flights coming from these countries to India has not been announced by the Indian government yet.

What are the guidelines one needs to follow while taking any of the flights covered under Air Travel Bubble?

The guidelines for travelling under International Air Bubble are very similar to the SOP issues by the MoCA under Vande Bharat Mission. Here are some of the major points to keep in mind from the SOP issued:

  • • Indian residents outside India will first have to register themselves in Indian Missions in the country and will have to bear the cost of the travel.
  • • Any individual belonging to another country will be allowed to travel to the destination country only when the conditions of entering that country have been fulfilled by her/him.
  • • All the basic safety protocols such as wearing a safety mask, maintaining social distancing etc are to be followed by the passengers along with any other important safety instructions given by the flight staff.
  • • Only the people with no symptoms shall be allowed to travel in the flight and will have to go to a self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

Why India had to consider international air travel bubbles? 

The USA had accused India of being unfair as it was allowing only Indian flights to travel to and from USA and restricted US airlines to travel to India under Vande Bharat Mission. This move from India put US airlines in a competitively disadvantageous position. The request for allowing flights to operate in India by Germany and France was also done, hence the need for Air Travel Bubble arose. 

Are there any other countries that have implemented such International Air Bubble agreement?

The idea of Air Travel Bubble was first implemented by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Even after so many months after the virus struck, the total number of cases in these countries is less than 8000 combined. The countries with the least number of cases decided to start flights amongst each other to improve their economy that plummeted during the pandemic. 

After these countries started operating, many other countries started having such agreements between each other after analysing each other’s capabilities of containing the virus. 

Many neighboring countries are resorting to these international air bubbles to revive their economies. Some examples of such are Thailand – Hong Kong, China-South Korea, Thailand–Hong Kong and many more.

Taking such steps will help not only these countries but the economy of the whole world. India is one of the leading countries when it comes to Corona Virus cases but the number of active cases is decreasing with each passing day. The decreasing number of cases is a good indication and the country can go for more such International Air Travel Bubble agreements to revive the drowning economy of the country.

Explained: Here’s why India’s air bubbles may not help most travelers 

International flights explained: Air bubbles or travel corridors are systems established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow carriers of both the countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions.

Despite the relaxations being given by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to foreign airlines of France and the US to fly passengers of Indian and non-Indian nationalities on both legs of their India flights, restrictions put in place by the foreign jurisdictions, as well as India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, mean that the situation does not change for most travelers unless these norms are eased up.

Negotiations for air bubbles

Thursday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said India was in advanced stages of negotiations for setting up of air travel bubbles with various countries and has already allowed American carrier United and French airline Air France to operate flights till the end of this month under an arrangement.

While United has been allowed to operate 18 flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Newark between July 17 and 31, Air France will operate flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to Paris between July 18 and August 1.

Restrictions relaxed, but still in place

A senior government official said these airlines have been permitted to fly passengers both ways but alluded to the fact that restrictions imposed by India’s home ministry and the foreign countries could mean only those who clear these checks will be able to travel out or in.

To begin with, as per the new norms, foreign carriers will be able to fly in Indian citizens and holders of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards meeting certain stipulations as notified by the home ministry.

Further, India has suspended all visas, barring certain categories. Even for Indian citizens and eligible OCI cardholders to fly to India on carriers like Air France and United, they will strictly have to adhere to the standard operating procedures and quarantine norms issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

By the very definition, air bubbles or travel corridors are systems established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow carriers of both the countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions.

Question marks over entry of Indian citizens

Additionally, even though the government has allowed carriers such as Air France and United to fly Indian citizens out of the country, it is unclear whether the receiving countries allow entry of Indian citizens.

For example, the European Council has adopted a recommendation on gradual lifting of temporary restrictions of non-essential travel into the European Union. This recommendation included 15 countries from where travel was allowed July 1 onward. The list was reviewed and revised on July 16 to 13 countries.

However, India did not feature in either of the lists.

“Things have opened up compared with before but someone can travel only if they do not face any visa restrictions, etc. Every nation has a different policy, which is not under our purview. These airlines can carry transit passengers, and we are enabling and facilitating it,” the government official said.