The maximum demand is being seen for flights to the US, with direct flights to San Francisco and Chicago being the most sought after there.
“Bookings for select destinations in USA, Canada, UK and Europe etc under Phase-3 of Mission Vande Bharat opened at 5 pm Friday. Around 60 million hits received till 7 pm on our website and 1,700 seats sold through website alone in 2 hours. Bookings continue and tickets are being issued,” AI tweeted. Officials say the demand is strong across economy, business and first.
#FlyAI: Bookings for select destinations in USA,Canada,UK & Europe etc under Phase3 of #MissionVandeBharat opened a… https://t.co/6XvTA40MEL
— Air India (@airindiain) 1591368643000
The massive demand meant it was not easy to get a seat on these outbound flights. “I have made my payment using my credit card but haven’t got the ticket. Hope the payment mean that a confirm ticket has been issued,” said a person in Kolkata who has to go back to US to rejoin work.
“My entire family had logged into five laptops and as many AI apps on our phones to book a Delhi-US ticket. For about two hours we managed to reach the generate one time password (OTP) phase for making booking using credit card and we gave the OTP thrice. But we didn’t get the message that the amount has been paid using our card and we don’t know our status. We need to buy one ticket and hope suddenly don’t get three tickets as we gave the OTP thrice,” said another person in Delhi. These people did not wish to give their names.
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A senior AI official said people should not panic. The website slowed down and many could not access it. “We will put more flights if required,” said a senior official.
At 6.08 pm on Friday, AI tweeted: “Demand for seats from India on flights planned under Mission Vande Bharat-3 is overwhelming. Sectors/ flights are being opened in systematic manner for booking, on the website.”
#FlyAI: Demand for seats from India on flights planned under Mission Vande Bharat-3 is overwhelming. Sectors/ Fligh… https://t.co/WxOqBIJCC7
— Air India (@airindiain) 1591360732000
Passengers wonder why did AI not sell its inventory through online travel agents. “This is an international health emergency and AI could have told the OTAs that they will not get any commission for these ticket sales. And that they should do this as a national service by waiving off their commissions. A big country with huge travel demand like India cannot have just one website to meet the outbound travel demand of its people. The website will obviously crash,” said another passenger.
Air India is operating 75 additional flights to North American destinations like New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto this month and foreign nationals can fly out on them.
Resumption of schedule international flights will take some time and till then the Vande Bharat flights will fly eligible people in and out of India. In Vande Bharat-III, about 38,000 persons are expected to be repatriated on 337 international flights from 31 countries including 54 from US, 24 from Canada, 11 flights from Africa. Till now almost 3.5 lakh Indians abroad have registered to return home on compelling grounds and over a lakh have been brought back.
AI one-way economy fare for a Delhi-US (Houston) economy class flight is Rs 1.03 lakh; Delhi-Toronto and Delhi-Vancouver is Rs 1.07 lakh and Delhi-Tel Aviv is Rs 51,938. The fares, aviation minister H S Puri, had said on Thursday are much lower than those of the special flights organised by other countries to fly their citizens out of India on the same routes.