Travel firms expect heavy rush as US lifts curbs

Travel companies are expecting a heavy rush to the US following the withdrawal of curbs on fully vaccinated travellers from select countries, including India, on November 8.

The move will benefit those holding long-term tourist, business, and work visas.

Also, new and extra flights by Air India and American Airlines are expected to provide better travel options.

Visa appointments (for fresh applicants) have been curtailed as part of local Covid-19 measures and there is no clarity yet on their normalisation.

“The US update on acceptance of fully vaccinated Indians without quarantine from November 8 is a welcome development for our business travellers and also the family and leisure segments.

“Flight capacity is currently limited to flights under the air travel bubble.

“Fares that are already over 60 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels may well see a further surge,” said Indiver Rastogi, president and group head (global business travel), Thomas Cook India.

Return economy class fares for non-stop flights on the Delhi-Newark/New York route for travel between November 10 and December 30 are priced Rs 90,000-Rs 120,000.

On certain dates, though, return tickets are a bit cheaper around Rs 70,000.

On Friday, the White House announced the lifting of Covid restrictions for vaccinated travellers from 33 countries, making it easier for those flying between the two countries.

Those inoculated with FDA or WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccines would be accepted.

The Joe Biden administration would separately issue orders and guidance documents to implement the new travel policy.

Travel restrictions for Indians came into effect on May 4 when the country was grappling with the second wave of the Covid pandemic.

Those restrictions meant that tourist or business visa-holders had to spend 14 days outside India in order to gain entry into the US.

But the curbs did not apply to US citizens and permanent residents, among others.

Students whose classes began after August 1 were allowed direct entry.

While traditionally November-December is the peak season for India travel from the US, this year there can be a rush on the outbound flights, too.

“International travel will gain momentum with the decline in daily Covid-19 cases across the country and the easing of travel norms by leading global destinations, including the US.

“Fares will be higher in the initial few days. We expect their rationalisation after a week or so,” said a spokesperson of Yatra.com.

Prashant Pitti, co-founder of EaseMyTrip, said: “There is a jump of nearly 50 per cent in demand for US flights and we are hopeful that more routes and options will be available soon.

“There had been a significant jump in airfares in the recent past and as of now, rates have stabilised.

“We hope this trend continues as we expect more flight options.”

At present Air India and United Airlines operate non-stop flights to the US from Mumbai and Delhi. From November 3, Air India is increasing frequency on the Delhi-Chicago route from six to seven per week.

American Airlines is launching new services between New York and Delhi from October 31 and between Seattle and Bengaluru from January 4.

“The US government decision to lift the travel restrictions is a positive development and now it must be followed up by increasing visa services in India.

“Visa appointments have been restricted due to local Covid-19 measures and staffing issues within the US Department of State, among others.

“This has impacted applicants of tourist, business, and work visas,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration law firm.

“New H-1B visas have been issued to those who qualify under the National Interest Exception policy.

“However, there are thousands of individuals who are approved and eligible to apply for H-1B visas and have been unable to join their new jobs in the US.

“Enhanced visa services in India are crucial to enable people to travel to the US,” she added.

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