German Airlines Lufthansa has a unique proposition for the Indian government, it will fly the planes empty on the outbound trip and will only carry passengers from India to Germany. This plan is quite similar to a repatriation flight, with the only difference being that these flights can be booked commercially and are open to anyone who meets border control rules. Lufthansa had plans to fly to India soon, hoping restrictions would be eased by then.
By not bringing in any passengers, the government does not need to worry about any imported cases of the coronavirus. This means India’s medical infrastructure will not be burdened by incoming passengers, while those wishing to leave the country can do so. The government has taken note of this proposal; consideration is ongoing.
Demand remains sky high
Lufthansa’s offer might seem odd at first; how can an airline make money when one leg of the flight is empty? The answer is because the demand for international travel in India is sky-high right now. India instituted a ban on commercial international flights on March 22nd, effectively leaving some passengers stranded.
This ban has been repeatedly extended, most recently until 30th June. This has left hundreds of thousands of non-resident Indians, foreign nationals, and long-term visa holders stranded in India for over three months. Lufthansa is banking on demand from these passengers to allow it to fly profitably even with one leg empty.
Lufthansa will likely also have to price these fares higher than usual to account for the empty inbound flight. It is unclear how much more expensive this will make tickets, although low demand and cheaper fuel could help lower costs. However, with demand so high, passengers will likely be willing to pay the higher fares to return home.
Borders slowly open
As the number of cases of the coronavirus slows in Europe, countries are slowly reopening their borders to travelers. While this does not extend to non-EU residents yet, both Greece and Spain are hoping to welcome foreign travelers soon.
As the number of coronavirus rises exponentially in India, many non-resident are looking for a way to return home. India has allowed passengers to fly on the outbound leg of its repatriation flight, although this has been affected by website crashes and hurdles.
While India has still restricted the entry of foreign citizens, other countries, such as the UK and the US, have kept their borders largely open during the crisis. Lufthansa is hoping that the surge of demand from travelers will allow its ambitious plan to succeed. The government will announce its decision whether to allow Lufthansa flights in the coming weeks. If the government does allow Lufthansa, we could see more airlines follow in the future.