MUMBAI: As domestic flights were shut down, Mumbai airport, India’s second busiest airport, saw air traffic fall to one-third but fares to several destinations in the last few flights soared to the highest in the country.
Among the routes with the most expensive one-way tickets were those to Delhi (Rs 16,000), Kochi (Rs 11,000), Kolkata (Rs 24,500), Jaipur (Rs 31,500), and Hyderabad (Rs 8,500). By 4pm, the only fares available to Delhi were those in premium class and cost Rs 36,000. By evening, even those tickets were not available. Flights to Indore, Thiruvananthapuram weren’t available in the afternoon. In comparison, fares on Tuesday evening flights to Bengaluru were cheaper at Rs 4,500.
The airport did not really see a rush for the last flights out by midnight. At domestic terminal 1, many of the passengers were in their 20s and 30s, working for IT or pharma companies. Sujit Rai, 26, who works for an IT firm in Airoli, reached the airport three hours in advance. “I live in Bandra with two friends in a small flat. We didn’t expect such a complete lockdown. There is no way to quarantine ourselves since we three share a room and a kitchen and so decided to leave the city,” he said. Also present were elderly passengers. “It’s safer for my parents to be at our home back in Hyderabad. We have a larger house in Hyderabad and also a lot of relatives to help if need arises,” said Shanti Ramanan, who was at the airport to drop her parents.
This is the first time in the history of Indian commercial aviation that passenger flights between cities have stopped. “The ban will hit those who need to fly to handle a crisis, an emergency. Like if there is a death in the family or a parent or family member has taken critically ill,” said an airline director. “These are hard times, the ban will impact our balance sheet. But running day-to-day operations had become extremely difficult in the last few weeks with many flight cancellations, aircraft on ground, new directions from the government every other day and from this week, a drastic cut in manpower,” he added.
GoAir flight G8429 from Delhi scheduled to land at 11.50pm is likely to be the last arrival, while IndiGo 6E907 is likely to be the last departure at 9.35pm on Tuesday. From Wednesday, the only flights taking off would be state aircraft, freighter flights, those handling medical evacuation and those being operated with special permission. International passenger flights are already banned.
Passengers booked on domestic flights scheduled from Wednesday will have to reschedule their flights as airlines haven’t been giving refunds, said a travel agent. For now, most of the 650-odd aircraft that Indian carriers operate will be on ground.
Traffic – both air and passenger – has been dwindling at airports since the travel restrictions over Covid-19 began. Mumbai airport, which used to handle 950 arrivals and departures a day, managed an average of about 550 flight movements on Monday.
Passenger traffic too had dropped by about 55%. With domestic flights halted, Mumbai will have about 25,000-30,000 passengers fewer per day than the average, according to conservative estimates.
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