Airlines fail to add extra flights from India on eve of UK ban

Heathrow refuses more incoming flights ahead of Covid red list bar starting early Friday for most travellers from India

Airlines have attempted to lay on extra flights to cope with passengers hoping to leave India and beat the Covid ban on entering the UK, but have been hit with rebuttals by airports and by cancellations.

India, which reported more than 314,000 new coronavirus infections – a daily Covid-19 infection record globally – is facing a critical shortage of hospital beds and oxygen, and will be added to the UK red list from 4am on Friday 23 April.

This red list restriction bans entry for all but British or Irish nationals, or people with residence rights in the UK. These arrivals are required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days in the UK at their own expense after leaving India.

Thirty flights a week are now operating between the UK and India. Heathrow airport refused to allow extra flights from India before the ban, declining the airlines’ requests to ensure that existing pressures at the border were not exacerbated. It is understood four airlines sought to put on eight extra flights.

Heathrow has had long queues recently at border control, with passenger forms being checked for entry requirements amid the coronavirus restrictions.

Sign for a Covid-19 testing centre at the Heathrow international arrivals hall this January
Sign for a Covid-19 testing centre at the Heathrow international arrivals hall this January. The UK government’s red list now bans most visitors from India. Photograph: May James/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

An all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus heard on Tuesday that while queues at immigration halls varied, on average there were from two-hour to three-hour delays at large locations such as Heathrow.

At Gatwick airport, some flights from India were due on Thursday, operated by the charter firm Enter Air, but they were cancelled by the airline.

The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that it had received applications for charter flight permits from India to the UK, but these had been declined or withdrawn for not meeting the qualifying criteria, the BBC reported.

However, Birmingham airport accepted one additional flight from India at 6pm on Thursday.

In India the departures boards for some of the country’s busiest airports listed flights to destinations around the world. Delhi’s Indira Gandhi international airport showed that on Thursday and Friday flights were scheduled to leave for Dubai, Kabul, Kathmandu, London, Hong Kong, Muscat, Bangkok and Colombo. A flight was also listed for Sydney, though its status was unknown.

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj international airport listed flights scheduled for Paris, Kigali, Addis Ababa and Malé, as well as Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and Dammam in Saudia Arabia.

Some countries have toughened their entry restrictions. France said it would impose a 10-day quarantine rule for arrivals from India over the coming days, while Oman said arrivals from India would be suspended as of 6pm on Saturday.

Quarantine requirements vary across destinations. Thailandrequires travellers to present a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to a flight, and for arrivals to quarantine in a designated facility for 10 days, or seven days if vaccinated. Dubai requires people arriving from India to take a PCR test no more than 48 hours before departure, and a second test on arrival.


Jamie Grierson and Rebecca Ratcliffe

The GuardianTramp

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