Air India’s (AI’s) non-stop flights to Canada and the US will get a fillip as the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak curbs traffic flow via China and Hong Kong. Over 5.4 million passengers flew between India and the US in the 12 months ended September 2019. Around 25 per cent of passengers flew non-stop between the two countries; the rest flew via hubs in Dubai, Doha, or Frankfurt. Around 5.7 per cent of the India-US traffic and 8 per cent of the Delhi-US traffic travelled one stop via China and Hong Kong during the period. Hong Kong and China are popular transit hubs for Canada-bound passengers from Punjab because of low fares. The suspension and curtailment of flights between India and China will help AI and other airlines increase their seat occupancy and market share, say travel agents and aviation experts. AI operates 36 flights per week to the US and Canada and earns around 12 per cent of its revenue from North American routes. “We are seeing a shift in traffic flow from over the Pacific to over the Atlantic. About 10 per cent of bookings to the US and Canada via East Asia have been cancelled,” said Amey Amladi, chief operating officer of Akbar Group, one of the largest travel agencies in India. “The main beneficiary will be Air India, followed by the Gulf and European airlines, which offer capacity and competitive fares — this being a lean season for travel,” he added. “Before the outbreak of the nCoV, China Eastern Airline tickets to Toronto and Vancouver were selling like hot cakes — these were around 15-20 per cent cheaper than the rest. But now, customers are wary of Chinese carriers and are getting rebooked on Air Canada, Lufthansa, or other airlines,” said Amit Minglani, manager of Chandigarh-based Prompt Travels. Four Chinese airlines operate flights to Delhi but following the virus outbreak, they are cutting down the flights. Air China and Shandong Airlines have suspended their India flights, while China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have cut frequencies to Delhi. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, which operates 49 weekly flights to six cities in India, will operate 36 flights per week in February and March. “We carry passengers to Canada and the US. We are seeing bookings as well as cancellations.
Hence, we’re unable to comment on the exact impact,” Cathay Pacific said in a statement.
“If the cancellations of Cathay Pacific and Chinese carriers last longer, Air India could look at further adding flights to North America in summer. United has 21 weekly flights to India, while Delta has only 7, making Air India a strong player in the non-stop segment. With Singapore raising the nCoV outbreak alert level, passengers will be wary of flying via Singapore as well. They could also opt for either European or the West Asian carriers,” said Ameya Joshi, founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts.
“Customers are avoiding Southeast Asia. There are cancellations to Australia and New Zealand, too,” said Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India.
“We are closely monitoring the developments related to the nCoV outbreak. It is still too early to assess the full impact of the outbreak on our business,” Singapore Airlines said in a statement.