Airlines reroute operations as COVID 3.0 deflates demand

Load factor, passenger numbers decrease across industry; carriers seek to minimise disruption to passengers while rejigging flights

IndiGo
IndiGo has rolled out a ‘Plan B’ for passengers whose itineraries were disrupted due to cancelled or rescheduled flights. File photo

Aviation, among the industries that paid the highest price for the first two waves of COVID, appears set to see the numbers plunge all over again. Both due to an increase in cases and localised lockdowns, Indian airlines are witnessing a decline in demand, indicate reports. In line with this, they are cutting or merging services, making it as less disruptive to the flier as possible.

Low-cost carrier IndoGo, the nation’s largest, has already withdrawn a fifth of its scheduled flights amid falling demand. Vistara, a full-service carrier from the Tata stable, is tweaking capacity to align it with volatile demand, said media reports. Air India, the national carrier that the Tatas recently took over, is merging select flights per load factor.

Decline in passenger numbers, load factor

Ministry of Civil Aviation data revealed that domestic air passenger numbers have been dropping over the past two weeks, amid rising COVID cases and increasing lockdowns across States. Against 3.85 lakh air passengers on December 26, there were only 2.41 lakh on January 8, it said.

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The load factor has not been very encouraging either. Airlines use that metric to assess what percentage of the available seating capacity has been filled. A high load factor is representative of an airline selling most of its available seats.

On January 8, IndiGo reported a load factor of 65.8%. Similarly, SpiceJet and GoFirst saw load factors of 68.5% and 62.8%, respectively. The same day, Air India’s load factor was 67.4%, Vistara’s 53.6%, and AirAsia India, 59.6%.

Reining in disruptions

During the two previous waves of COVID, many passengers whose flights were cancelled had to face a lot of hardships. There were complaints of poor information dissemination, and long waits for refunds. This time round, airlines are looking to ease the pain for passengers.

For instance, IndiGo recently rolled out a ‘Plan B’ for passengers whose itineraries were disrupted due to cancelled or rescheduled flights. “We have Plan B for you! With Plan B, you can change the time and/or date of your flight or cancel and process the refund, at no additional cost,” said the airline.

It further told fliers to not wait in the queue for more than two hours for any cancelled or rescheduled flight. IndiGo is also offering “free changes for all new and existing bookings” made up to January 31 for flights up to March 31, keeping in mind the disruptions from the third wave.

Vistara is offering options such as rescheduling of flights and easy refunds. Air India is offering a ‘One Free Change’ option, wherein passengers can change the date or flight number or sector for travel till March 31. “#FlyAI: In view of recent uncertainties due to surge in COVID cases, Air India is offering ONE FREE CHANGE of date or flight number or sector for all domestic tickets (098) with confirmed travel on/before 31.03.22,” it tweeted.

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