Air travel to India has come to mean traveling on air bubble flights since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world. With the second wave of COVID-19 triggering ripples of fear across the nation, it is clear that the restrictions on international flights are here to stay longer than we presume. While India has once again extended the ban on scheduled international passenger flights till 30 April 2021 in the wake of the resurgence of coronavirus cases in the country, VBM flights and air bubble flights continue to facilitate eligible air passengers flying between USA and India.
Although Air India and United Airlines are the two major airlines that have been serving the US-India route with nonstop flights since the start of the air bubble agreement between the two nations, many other foreign airlines (from countries with a bilateral air bubble pact with India) such as Emirates (Dubai), Etihad (Abu Dhabi), Qatar (Doha), Lufthansa (Germany), and Virgin Atlantic (England) have also been permitted to operate air bubble flights between USA and India.
Air India is operating air bubble flights from five cities in USA (New York, Chicago, Washington, Newark, and San Francisco) to seven Indian cities (Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Kochi) under its 9th phase, which is scheduled to continue till October 2021.
You can book Air India's air bubble flights from USA to India for the following routes:
As a part of the travel bubble agreement, United Airlines is operating nonstop flights between USA and India. The US-India routes currently served by United Airlines are given below. (United is also planning to launch nonstop service between San Francisco and Bengaluru this May 2021).
Emirates has limited its network due to travel restrictions; the airline is currently serving 9 Indian cities, namely Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Kolkata, and Thiruvananthapuram. Emirates' air bubble flights to India originate from one of these US cities - Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington.
Lufthansa's flight schedule to India (for April and May months) includes air bubble flights to three cities, namely, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bengaluru. You can book your flights from San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other US cities. Registering with Indian High Commission in Germany is a prerequisite for travelers taking the airline's air bubble flight to India from USA. Another important point to note is that Lufthansa does not fly Indian passport holders on connecting flights beyond the EU even when you have a ticket for it.
Etihad operates air bubble flights from New York, Chicago, Washington to 8 Indian destinations - Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kochi, New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram.
Also known as travel bridges or corona corridors, an air bubble refers to the temporary bilateral agreement between countries under which airlines of respective countries can operate international flights within the designated zone. Air bubble flight passengers can travel between these countries with few or no restrictions at all. Currently, India has travel bubble arrangements with more than 27 countries, including US, UK, UAE, Qatar, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iraq, Oman, and Ukraine.
Stranded Indian nationals holding a valid visa, Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Persons of Indian Origin Card (PIO) cardholders with US passports, and foreign nationals with a valid visa (as guided by the Ministry of Home Affairs) can travel to India on air bubble flights for any purpose, except for tourism. As for the visa types, the Government of India has restored all visas, except electronic visas (e-Visa) of any type, Tourist Visa and Medical Visa.
You can book air bubble flights to India from USA through the airline's official website or from accredited travel agencies such as Indian Eagle. The procedure is the same (as in pre-COVID days), but make sure you double-check all the necessary travel documents and fulfill the requirements for traveling to India on air bubble flights.
Travelers flying to India on VBM or air bubble flights need to mandatorily submit the 'Air Suvidha Self Reporting Form' which is available online on the official website of New Delhi Airport, at least 72 hours before your scheduled travel. Travelers who are eligible to seek exemption from quarantine must fill the "Apply for Exemption" form 72 hours prior to boarding the air bubble flight to India.
Apart from submitting a self-declaration form on the Air Suvidha portal, all passengers (including children and infants) are required to upload their negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report of the test conducted within 72 hours before undertaking the journey. No traveler (except those traveling to India in the exigency of death in the family) will be allowed entry without a negative report. Home quarantine/ self-monitoring of health for 14 days is mandatory too. Check out our detailed SOP for international arrivals in India.
The Tamil Nadu government has mandated e-passes for all the travelers arriving in the state, whereas Mumbai requires passengers arriving from or transiting from Europe, UK, Middle East, South Africa, and Brazil to undergo institutional (hotel) quarantine for 7 days (at their own cost), after which they will be subjected to a self-paid RT-PCR test on day 7. If tested negative, they will have to undergo 7-day home quarantine. Read here the detailed guidelines for passengers arriving at Mumbai airport.
Similarly, each State has its own set of guidelines for arriving passengers, which every person must comply with. Do not fail to keep tabs on the latest SOP of the city you are flying to, as the guidelines are subject to change depending on the COVID-19 situation in the respective state or city.