India to resume regular international flights on March 27

Just over a week after Holi celebrations, India will resume its regular schedule of international flights on March 27 for the first time in two years.

Recently relaxed COVID-19 entry rules have made it somewhat easy for travelers to visit India, with vaccinated visitors no longer required to take a test before traveling or to quarantine on arrival since February 14.

But throughout much of the pandemic, airlines have only been able to operate a limited number of commercial flights to and from certain countries as part of India’s reciprocal “air bubble” agreements.

Limited routes into the country and skyrocketing demand have meant that airfares have been “exorbitant” according to the Times of India. At one stage, when borders opened to travelers in November, local media reported a 100% rise in airfare across some routes.

That situation could improve on March 27 when India will return to its pre-pandemic schedule of international flights; ending air bubbles and lifting flight restrictions amid increased vaccination rates around the world, the country’s civil aviation authority said on Tuesday.

Tourists must be fully vaccinated or present a negative test to travel to India © Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock

How closure of Russian airspace impacts routes to India

While unrestricted airline travel will certainly give travelers more options to choose from, it’s unlikely that airfare will return to pre-pandemic levels thanks to the rising cost of fuel. Not to mention many airlines, including American Airlines, are no longer using Russian airspace to fly to India amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, and are making additional stops to refuel.

United Airlines announced on Monday that it is suspending its Delhi-San Francisco and Mumbai-Newark routes as they’re no longer time or fuel-efficient now that Russian airspace is out of bounds. It will, however, continue its shorter Delhi-Chicago flight.

Air India is one of the few airlines that continues to use Russian airspace.

COVID-19 restrictions in India

Since February 14, people from 82 approved countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Japan, and Thailand) no longer need to take a pre-departure test to visit India, provided they present proof of vaccination . Unvaccinated arrivals must still provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours.

Under the current guidelines, all arrivals must upload their vaccination status to the Air Suvidha portal prior to boarding their flight.

Many bicycle ice cream sellers in front of the India Gate
COVID-19 case numbers are decreasing in India ©Sean3810/Getty Images

India also dropped its quarantine rule for all arrivals in February, asking travelers to self-monitor their health for 14 days instead and report any symptoms to officials.

Some domestic travel curbs continue, while some states have additional requirements for international arrivals. Rajasthan, for example, mandates on-arrival testing for arrivals from February 16. And travelers heading to Goa must show proof of a negative test on arrival. Most states require domestic travelers to download the Aarogya Setu mobile application to upload their vaccine or testing status.

As Holi approaches on March 18 some states have agreed to further relax restrictions including West Bengal where curfew will be lifted on the 17th, just in time for one of the world’s most colorful celebrations.

This article was first published on October 8, 2021 and updated on March 10, 2022

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