Covid effect: 6 countries that red-carded Indian carriers

Indian carriers have been operating international flights under VBM and air bubbles but some countries have raised objections to their operation

Covid effect: 6 countries that red-carded Indian carriers
An Air India aircraft at Hong Kong. The carrier was banned five times by Hong Kong. Image curtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Phillip Capper

The Indian carriers have been hailed for playing a vital role in bringing back Indians stuck in foreign shores during the Covid-19 crisis. However, they have also been facing a tough time and have faced suspensions on certain occasions. 

The Indian airlines have been operating international flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) and air bubbles but some countries have raised objections to their operation, particularly that of national carrier Air India, and even barred them. Some of the issues still continue while most of them have been resolved. 

Here is a list of the countries that have put restrictions on Indian carriers during Covid-19:

1. United States

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) alleged India of being “unfair” and engaging in “discriminatory practices” with regard to repatriation flights and operating rights of US carriers to and from India. The DOT complained that India's stance was a violation of the US-India Air Transport Agreement. In a letter dated June 22, 2020, the DOT restricted the VBM flights operated by Air India,   

The DOT notified Air India that the airline would be needed to obtain prior approval from the department for operating Third and/or Fourth Freedom charter flights to and from the US so that it can exercise close scrutiny on a case-by-case basis of Air India's passenger charter operations. 

Also read: How India's air bubbles calmed US fury, supplemented Vande Bharat

The department alleged that Air India's so-called evacuation charters had gone beyond true evacuations and involved sales to any member of the general public able to enter the US while pointing out the Indian MoCA's inaction regarding Delta Airlines' request to operate repatriation charters similar to those undertaken by Air India. 

The DOT also pointed out that with 59 flights advertised between June 10 and July 3, Air India had planned to operate charters at 53% of what it did earlier as part of scheduled services. The department suspected that Air India was trying to use these charters to circumvent the ban on scheduled air services imposed by the Indian government in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Air India Express plane in Dubai. It was banned there for 15 days but later spared. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/airliners.net

The issue was resolved after India and the US set up an air bubble agreement under which the airlines of both India and the US will be able to carry passengers between the two countries and enjoy reciprocal rights.

2. United Arab Emirates

In September, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) banned national carrier Air India's low-cost arm Air India Express for 15 days for carrying a Covid-positive passenger for the second time. According to UAE rules, a passenger travelling from India to UAE has to carry an original Covid-negative certificate from an RT-PCR test done 96 hours before the journey. 

“Boarding a passenger with Covid-19 positive test result for the second time is contrary to and in violation of the laid down procedures and/or protocols relating to air travel to and from airports in the Emirate of Dubai, during the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Therefore, all operation of Air India Express to Dubai Airports is temporarily suspended, for a duration of 15 days, effective from September 18 to October 2,” the DCAA said in the notice.

Also read: India sees red after UAE carriers violate air bubble conditions

The order led to the carrier rescheduling all Dubai-bound flights to Sharjah. The order, however, was revoked after Air India Express gave an explanation. The carrier acknowledged that there was an erroneous acceptance of one Covid-positive passenger each by ground-handling agents in Delhi on August 28 and Jaipur on September 4. 

3. Saudi Arabia

The Gulf country banned flights to and from India in September amid a surge in coronavirus cases. In a circular, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said it was “suspending travel to and from the following countries: (India, Brazil and Argentina) including any person who has been in any of the mentioned countries above in the last 14 days prior to their arrival to the Kingdom.” However, it excluded “passengers who have official government invitations”. 

Again in December, all international flights, including those of Air India’s, to and from Saudi Arabia were suspended for a week owing to fears over a new strain of coronavirus that put London and all of southern England on a Christmas lockdown. As of December 21, Saudi Arabia did not allow passengers from India, but lets airlines carry passengers to India. 

4. Hong Kong

Hong Kong banned Air India five times and Vistara once for carrying Covid-positive passengers. In November, Hong Kong banned Air India flights from Delhi till December 3 after a few passengers tested positive for Covid-19 post-arrival. 

The previous bans on the airline's Delhi-Hong Kong flights were from August 18 to August 31, September 20 to October 3 and October 17 to October 30. A ban was put on Air India's Mumbai-Hong Kong flights from October 28-November 10. 

Private carrier Vistara also faced a ban in Hong Kong. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Venkat Mangudi

Vistara flights were banned from October 17-30 after the airline carrier a few Covid-positive passengers from Chennai. 

Hong Kong had ruled in July that passengers from India could arrive only if they have a Covid-negative certificate from a test done 72 hours prior to the journey. Moreover, all international passengers have to undergo a post-flight Covid-19 test at the Hong Kong airport. 

5. China

In November, China had banned the entry of foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits from certain countries, including India. China had announced that the Chinese embassy/consulates in India will not stamp the health declaration forms of holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits. Certain categories of people like diplomats, however, were exempted. 

Also read: India looking to hit China back, advises airlines not to fly in Chinese nationals

China's decision came after 20 passengers of an Air India Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight from Delhi to Wuhan on October 30 tested positive for the coronavirus. Another 40 people were discovered to be carrying Covid-19 antibodies on arrival.

6. Kuwait

In August, Kuwait banned commercial flights to 31 "high risk" countries, including India to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Some of the other countries in the list were Italy, Spain, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Iran, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Mexico, Chile and Colombia. India had since established an air bubble with Kuwait. 

Note: In December, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman imposed a travel ban for seven to nine days in view of the detection of the more infectious mutant strain of the coronavirus in the UK. This affected flights operated by the Indian carriers too. Apart from Kuwait, India had an air bubble with Oman as well.

(Cover image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Phillip Capper)