Transportation Updates

Kolkata Set To Halt Flights From UK Over Omicron Fears

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to hit airline operations, with the latest fatality being flights connecting London with the Indian city of Kolkata. The decision was taken by the government of the state of West Bengal, citing the rising COVID cases in the UK.

Flights connecting the UK with the Indian state of West Bengal will be suspended due to rising COVID cases. Photo: Getty Images

Flights from the UK suspended

On December 30th, the government of West Bengal announced a ban on all international flights coming from the UK to Kolkata from January 3rd. The indefinite suspension was prompted after a rise in covid cases in West Bengal, which the state government says are coming primarily from international passengers.

Bengal’s capital city of Kolkata is facing a COVID surge, with 540 new cases reported on December 29th, bringing the total cases of West Bengal to 1089. The state’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee spoke on the matter yesterday, stating,

“Most omicron cases are being detected among people coming on flights from the UK. It’s a fact that the omicron carriers are coming via international flights. The Centre must decide on imposing restrictions on flights from countries where omicron cases are high.”

The Indian state will also strengthen the testing requirements for passengers arriving even from not-at-risk countries. Airlines have been asked to randomly select 10% of the passengers for the RT-PCR test, with the remaining 90% required to take the Rapid Antigen Test before leaving the airport.

ir India LHR-CCU flight affected

The only direct connection between West Bengal and the UK is a once-weekly Air India flight between Kolkata and London. Flight AI163 leaves Kolkata for London Heathrow every Sunday, and the return flight from London (AI164) departs every Saturday. Air India deploys its 787 Dreamliner on this route.

Kolkata Set To Halt Flights From UK Over Omicron Fears
The ban will affect Air India’s direct service between London and Kolkata. Photo:

While Air India’s website continues to show flights from London to Kolkata beyond January 3rd, once the ban comes into effect, the carrier is likely to discontinue the direct service between the two cities after its January 1st LHR-CCU flight.

Omicron affects flights globally

The rising COVID cases across the world are forcing airlines to scale back operations once again. The US – which is now reporting over 250,000 new coronavirus cases every day – has seen hundreds of flights being cancelled in the last few days.

United and Delta cancelled around 200 flights on Christmas Eve due to staffing shortages linked to COVID. The cancellations during the busy holiday period affected thousands of passengers who were unable to go home ahead of the holidays.

Kolkata Set To Halt Flights From UK Over Omicron Fears
The US has seen hundreds of flights being cancelled in the last few days. Photo: Getty Images.

On Thursday, airlines in the US cancelled around 700 flights, with JetBlue and United flights most affected. JetBlue warned of further cancellations citing the rising number of COVID cases in the northeast, where most of its crew members are based.

The Lufthansa Group had to cut 33,000 flights from its winter schedule after travel demand dropped following the Omicron spread. The airline was hoping to make a recovery over the winter but instead had to make a 10% cut in its entire network plan due to rising COVID cases across the world.

Have you been affected by Omicron-induced flight cancellations? Share your comments below.