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Coronavirus: China's pain is Air-India's gain

By Aneesh Phadnis
February 11, 2020 15:31 IST
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Curtailment of flights between India and China will help Air India and other airlines to boost their seat occupancy and market share.

Air India's non-stop flights to Canada and the US will get a boost as the coronavirus outbreak has led to curbs in traffic flow through China and Hong Kong.

Over 5.4 million passengers flew between India and the US during the twelve months ended September 2019.


Around 25 per cent of passengers flew non-stop between the two countries and 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 Delhi-US traffic travelled one stop via China and Hong Kong during the same period.

Hong Kong and China are popular transit hubs for Canada-bound passengers from Punjab because of low fares.

Suspension and curtailment of flights between India and China will help Air India and other airlines to boost their seat occupancy and market share, say travel agents and aviation experts.

Air India operates 36 flights a week to the US and Canada and earns about 12 per cent of its revenue from the North America routes.

"We are seeing a shift in traffic flow from over Pacific to over Atlantic.

"Around 10 per cent of bookings to the US and Canada via East Asia have been cancelled.

"The main beneficiary will be Air India, followed by the Gulf and European airlines which offer capacity and competitive fares being a lean season for travel," said Amey Amladi, chief operating officer of Akbar Group, one of the largest travel agencies in India.

"Before the outbreak of coronavirus, China Eastern Airline tickets to Toronto and Vancouver were selling like hot cakes as these were around 15-20 per cent cheaper than rest.

"But now customers are worried about travelling on  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 and following the virus outbreak they are cutting down the flights.

Air China and Shandong Airlines have suspended 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 on reduction in travel demand.

"We carry passengers to Canada and United States. We are seeing bookings as well as cancellations hence 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 flights segment.

"With Singapore raising coronavirus outbreak alert level, passengers will be wary of flying via Singapore as well and customers could also opt for either European or Middle Eastern carriers," said Ameya Joshi, founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts.

"Customers are avoiding South East Asia. There are cancellations for Australia and New Zealand too," said Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India.

"We are closely monitoring the developments related to the novel coronavirus outbreak. It is still too early to assess the full impact of the outbreak on our business," Singapore Airlines said in a statement.

  • Emirates is the largest airline on India-US routes followed by Air India and Qatar Airways
  • On Delhi-US route Air India, United and Emirates are the largest airlines
  • Four Chinese airlines operate to Delhi. Now the airlines have suspended or cut flights
  • Around 8 per cent of Delhi-US traffic travels via Hong Kong or China. Los Angeles and San Francisco are main destinations in the US
  • Chinese carriers popular among Punjab residents traveling to Canada

Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

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Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai
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