International airlines are increasing capacity to India as the country ended its flight ban on March 27 for the first time in two years.

Recently relaxed COVID-19 entry rules have made it somewhat easy for travelers to visit India, with vaccinated visitors no longer required to take a test before traveling to India or to quarantine on arrival since February 14.

But throughout much of the pandemic, airlines have only been able to operate a limited number of commercial flights to and from certain countries as part of India's reciprocal "air bubble" agreements.

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That changed on Sunday when India finally lifted its remaining international flight bans and disbanded the air bubbles to reinstate connectivity with the rest of the world amid rising vaccination rates.

Dubai-based Emirates is among the airlines resuming services to India and will operate 170 weekly flights to the country starting April 1.

Air India, AI Express, Virgin Atlantic and LOT Polish are also upping operations, giving passengers more choice when traveling to and from India.

Gadi Sagar  Lake Jaisalmer ©Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock
Tourists must be fully vaccinated or present a negative test to travel to India © Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock

How closure of Russian airspace impacts routes to India

While unrestricted airline travel will certainly give travelers more options to choose from, they're facing another hurdle in getting to India with the rising cost of airfare.

Limited routes into the country and skyrocketing demand have meant that airfares have been "exorbitant" in recent months according to the Times of India. At one stage, when borders opened to travelers in November, local media reported a 100% rise in airfare across some routes.

As more airlines resume operations, the Times of India reports that passengers should see a drop in fares in the coming weeks. However, it's unlikely that airfare will drop as low as pre-pandemic levels as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to affect the price of gas. Not to mention many airlines, including American Airlines, are no longer using Russian airspace to fly to India and are making additional stops to refuel which is resulting in longer flights that are more expensive to operate.

This means that some routes are just no longer viable. United Airlines announced earlier this month that it is suspending its Delhi-San Francisco and Mumbai-Newark routes indefinitely as they're no longer time or fuel-efficient now that Russian airspace is out of bounds. It will, however, continue its shorter Delhi-Chicago flight.

Air India is one of the few airlines that continues to use Russian airspace.

COVID-19 restrictions in India

Since February 14, people from 82 approved countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Japan, and Thailand) no longer need to take a pre-departure test to visit India, provided they present proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated arrivals must still provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours.

Under the current guidelines, all arrivals must upload their vaccination status to the Air Suvidha portal prior to boarding their flight. 

Many bicycle ice cream sellers in front of the India Gate
COVID-19 case numbers are decreasing in India ©Sean3810/Getty Images

India also dropped its quarantine rule for all arrivals in February, asking travelers to self-monitor their health for 14 days instead and report any symptoms to officials.

Some domestic travel curbs continue, while some states have additional requirements for international arrivals. Rajasthan, for example, mandates on-arrival testing for arrivals. And travelers heading to Goa must show proof of a negative test on arrival. Most states require domestic travelers to download the Aarogya Setu mobile application to upload their vaccine or testing status.

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This article was first published Oct 8, 2021 and updated Mar 28, 2022.

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