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COVID-19 impact | Air passengers are booking whole business class, even entire aircraft, to keep distancing

The festive season and the upcoming New Year, has seen higher air passenger traffic, much to the relief of the airlines. The improving trend is underlined by another, unseen one – passengers are increasingly opting to book more seats than they need, sometimes the whole of the business class, or even the entire aircraft!

At the heart of the trend is the need among passengers to keep social distancing.

“We have been observing a trend where families are booking even the entire business class cabin to ensure privacy and social distancing while travelling. There have also been multiple instances where families or small group of travellers have booked the entire aircraft as well,” Vistara Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan told Moneycontrol in response to a query.

The trend has picked up since the Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines joint venture let customers book their adjacent seats to ensure social distancing.

“We have been getting bookings from all sections of our customers benefitting from the offering for their families, business travel and a few for leisure travel as well,” Kannan added.

The airline considers booking of 10 or more seats as a group booking.

“Given the increased focus on safety and social distancing, we do believe that customers will continue to take advantage of this option of booking additional seat(s) in the future as well,” Kannan added.

It surely seems more than just a rare occurrence, like the one in June, where IndiGo’s 180-seater aircraft had just four passengers. 

The trend has caught up enough for the country’s largest airline to launch a new scheme for customers. “We have introduced all new wedding charter service in collaboration with Accor Hotels. Keeping convenience and comfort in the mind, we are offering an exclusive family and friends IndiGo charter, a hotel deal and safe transportation of our customers to their destination,” the company’s spokesperson said.

InterGlobe Enterprises, parent of IndiGo, also runs InterGlobe Hotels that manages Accor properties in India.

“This will further help customers who want to go ahead with bulk bookings/ full flight bookings for a safer and customised flying experience,” the spokesperson added.

Leisure Vs Business

Air passenger traffic has grown consistently, month-on-month since domestic flights resumed in May. In October, traffic was up 33.6 percent from a month ago. 

“We have seen a positive trend over the first few months of resumption of operations post the lockdown including the steadily rising PLF (passenger load factor), unit revenue and future bookings on the back of increasing customer confidence in air travel,” the IndiGo executive said.

At the same time, demand has been higher from leisure travelers or those visiting friends and relatives, than those on business, a segment that is yet to pick up. Companies continue to encourage their employees to meet virtually.

Bulk bookings too has followed this trend, with those visiting friends and relatives, or going holidaying in a group, tending to book in bulk, or the entire aircraft.

“India is a country with close-knit families and friend circles, and hence we believe people will start flying and moving from one place to another to meet their loved ones. Therefore, we believe that leisure travel will see an increase towards the end of this year or early 2021, while corporate travel will take a back seat till the pandemic situation recovers to a larger extent,” the IndiGo spokesperson said.

That is one reason why Goa – as this Moneycontrol story had earlier pointed out – has become one of the top destinations this year.  Overall, the data has shown that much of the traffic continues to originate in the metros and go towards “hometown destinations.”

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