Travel may not have gone back to the pre-pandemic times, but the world is opening up, albeit gradually. Since June 2020, when travel in some parts of the world began, there has been talk of air bubble agreements between countries. India has now started flights between 49 cities under the Air Bubble arrangement with 18 countries in September, according to the Ministry of Civil Aviation's latest notification.
India has air bubble arrangements with several countries including the UK and US, within which it is set to restart flights after a long ban on international travel.
What is an air bubble?
Air bubble is a bilateral agreement between countries for air travel corridors based on Covid risk assessment. When regular international flights are suspended, these allow countries to operate flights to those within the air bubble and mitigate rules such as Covid testing and quarantine requirements.
The Civil Aviation website describes 'Air Bubble' as "Transport Bubbles" or "Air Travel Arrangements" that are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. "They are reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits," it notes.
The agreements were constituted in a bid to restart commercial air travel and renew trade ties after the long pandemic-induced hiatus.
So, what is India's air bubble?
Currently, India has an air bubble agreement with 28 other countries. This allows flight operations between these countries based on mutual agreement.
The countries that are part of India's air bubble include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Ukraine, UAE, UK, USA, and Uzbekistan.
Can you fly to all these countries?
No. While the air bubble agreements allow countries to operate flights between them, the rules change based on new travel and quarantine policies.
For instance, even though Canada has opened its doors to Indian tourists, direct flights from India to Canada have not restarted.
When the pandemic began early last year, these air bubbles were used to facilitate repatriation flights to bring back stranded citizens under the Vande Bharat Mission. Later, in July 2020, a limited number of flights were restarted between the US, France, and Germany.
Where can you really fly then?
Scheduled international passenger services have been banned in India since March 2020. The ban has been further extended to September 30. However, on September 6, India announced a list of 49 cities in 18 countries where flights will resume starting this month.
Earlier, India resumed flight operations to Bangladesh on September 3. The Air India Indore-Dubai flight also resumed on September 1.
The schedule for these flights is available until September 30 and flights can be booked from the Air India website, Air India offices and travel agents. These are the cities you can book flights to within the air bubble agreement.
1. Kabul (Afghanistan)
3. Dhaka (Bangladesh)
4. Toronto and Vancouver (Canada)
5. Paris (France)
6. Frankfurt (Germany)
7. Narita (Japan)
8. Nairobi (Kenya)
10. Male (Maldives)
11. Kathmandu (Nepal)
12. Muscat (Oman)
13. Doha (Qatar)
14. Moscow (Russia)
15. Colombo (Sri Lanka)
16. Dubai and Abu Dhabi (UAE)
17. London and Birmingham (UK)
18. New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Newark and San Francisco (USA)
Planning to travel? Read our travel explainers and guidelines here.