February 18, 2021: The Government of India revised the guidelines for international travelers flying into India directly or indirectly – which will take effect on 23:59 hrs on February 22, 2021. Please check the latest guidelines for international arrivals in India in detail.
The COVID19 health emergency has disrupted international travel to such a great extent that air travel is subject to many regulations and restrictions. With airlines resuming services and countries reopening airports amid the pandemic, international travel is getting complicated. From booking air tickets to boarding flights, every step entails certain regulations for travelers. In the current scenario of the changing norms related to air travel, you need to be well-informed about your travel eligibility, the destination country’s entry requirements, and the operating airline’s SOP.
This article is part of our continued series on booking Air India’s VBM flights and air travel bubble flights to and from India. Indian Eagle, a most trusted travel-booking partner of Indian Diaspora, is committed to making air travel simpler and easier.
Foreign nationals, including OCI and PIO cardholders, can travel to India
In a major development, the Government of India relaxed visa and travel restrictions for all foreign nationals, including OCI and PIO cardholders, in order to facilitate their travel to India on air bubble and VBM flights. OCI cardholders’ travel to India is no more subject to any category-based eligibility unlike before. All foreign nationals including those of Indian origin can book flights to India for any purpose, except tourism. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced plans to restore all existing visas to India, barring tourist visa, with immediate effect. Reportedly, foreign nationals can apply for a medical visa and can travel to India for medical treatment/emergency.
Also, OCI cardholders below 20 and above 50 years of age, with renewed passports but old OCI cards, can travel to India given the further relaxation of visa and travel restrictions. June 30, 2021 is the new deadline for them to get OCI cards reissued. The deadline for the PIO to OCI card conversion has also been extended through December 2021.
No registration for flights to and from India
Good news for international travelers flying into and out of India! Now booking VBM flights and air bubble flights is simpler and easier. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has eased the regulations for passengers of flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and the air transport bubble arrangement. Those planning to travel on Air India’s VBM flights from abroad need not register with the Indian Embassy or consulates in the countries where they are currently residing or stranded. Similarly, travelers booking air bubble flights, inbound or outbound, are no longer required to apply to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Providing their details, including the places of departure and arrival, to the airlines operating their flights to and from India will be enough. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has designated airlines operating VBM and air bubble flights as agencies for registering passenger details.
COVID-19 Test is mandatory for travelers flying into USA
With effect on January 26, 2021, all international travelers flying into the United States must provide a negative RT-PCR test report or valid documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19 at the time of boarding flights for any destination in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires you to take an antigen or NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test, for example, RT-PCR) test within 3 days prior to your scheduled departure for the US and submit the negative report to the airline. Antibody test reports will not be accepted for entry to the United States. Airlines are directed to deny boarding to those who do not provide a valid negative test report or proof of recovery. The documentation of recovery could be a letter from a certified healthcare provider or a public health official ascertaining that you are safe to travel.
This requirement for traveling to the United States applies to all international travelers, including US citizens and legal permanent residents. The CDC also recommends that international arrivals get tested within 5 days and quarantine themselves (stay indoors) for 7 days after their arrival in the US.
Indians with a B1/B2 visa to USA
Many people are looking to know if Indians can travel to USA on a visitor/tourist visa in COVID19 times. Yes, Indian passport holders with a valid B1/B2 visa can travel to USA from India. However, not all airlines are allowed to fly them to USA. Currently, Indian nationals can travel only on Air India and United Airlines flights to USA. They cannot travel on US-bound air bubble flights being operated by other airlines.
Guidelines for International Travelers to New York State
Travelers to New York are not exempted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mandatory requirement – a negative RT-PCR test report or valid proof of recovery from COVID19 – for all international arrivals. If you are flying to New York from India and if New York is your final destination, you must quarantine yourself for 10 days from the day of arrival. A COVID test (not antibody test) on the 4th day after arrival can shorten the quarantine period. If you choose not to take a test after 3 or 4 days of arrival, you must complete the 10-day quarantine period in New York. In addition, you are required to fill out the NYS Travel Health Form before departure for or after arrival at a port of entry in New York State.
Quarantine rules for people traveling with kids to India
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has scrapped institutional quarantine for certain categories of inbound travelers from abroad. People traveling with kids below 10 years are eligible for exemption from institutional quarantine upon arrival in India. In case they are found symptomatic in thermal screening upon arrival, they will be shifted to the onsite COVID-19 testing facility at the port of entry or the nearest healthcare facility for a test. FYI, major Indian airports have got a COVID testing facility. Read more about quarantine norms in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and other India cities.
Onsite COVID-19 test at Indian airports
Online booking of slots for COVID-19 tests at major Indian airports is available. Those traveling to India from abroad, without a negative RT-PCR test report, can book a slot for onsite testing at least one hour before their scheduled arrival at a port of entry in India. It takes maximum 6-10 hours to get the result depending on the rush of international arrivals on any given day. If the report is negative, they can continue onward travel to the final destination from the port of entry. Currently, the COVID testing facility for international arrivals is available at Delhi IGI Airport, Mumbai CSMI Airport, BLR Kempegowda Airport, Chennai MAA International Airport and Kochi International Airport, Kerala.
Read more about onsite COVID testing at major Indian airports.
Lufthansa’s COVID-19 test policy
In September 2020, Lufthansa will be operating 160 round-trip flights to India. In the September schedule of air bubble flights to India, Lufthansa will serve Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi. India’s continued air transport bubble arrangement with the United States and Germany has facilitated the September schedule of Lufthansa flights to India from USA and Canada via Frankfurt or Munich.
A negative COVID-19 test is not mandatory for boarding Lufthansa flights. Only asymptomatic people are allowed to travel on Lufthansa though. However, Lufthansa requires passengers to carry a medical certificate and a negative COVID test report in case they will not be able to keep wearing masks on board due to medical reasons. The conditional exemption to wearing masks during the flight will take effect from September 1 and apply to passengers of Lufthansa group airlines. The COVID-19 test must be taken within 48 hours of undertaking the journey.
Virgin Atlantic flights to India
Air bubble flights to India scheduled through September and October include Virgin Atlantic flights to Delhi and Mumbai starting September 2 and 17 respectively. Virgin Atlantic will be operating New York to India air bubble flights through London, and Delta Airlines will provide connections to New York from other US cities for Virgin Atlantic’s India flights. Virgin Atlantic offers a change of date fee waiver twice for flight rescheduling until September 2020.
Virgin Atlantic’s free COVID insurance policy
A complimentary COVID19 insurance is available on booking Virgin Atlantic flight tickets. The insurance will provide coverage worth £500,000 (over Rs 4.7 crore) for emergency medical and transport expenses related to COVID19. The policy applies to both new and existing bookings for Virgin Atlantic flights scheduled between August 24, 2020 and March 21, 2021. Check Virgin Atlantic’s COVID19 insurance coverage details and eligibility norms for travelers.
Flights to Kolkata from Delhi and Mumbai resume
Kolkata Airport is open to flights from Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Ahmedabad in September 2020. It is good news for Kolkata-bound international travelers as most VBM flights and air bubble flights are scheduled to arrive at Delhi and Mumbai. If travelers hold single PNRs for VBM or air bubble flights to Delhi or Mumbai with onward domestic connection to Kolkata, they will face institutional quarantine in Kolkata, not at the gateway destination. Three weekly flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad to Kolkata will be allowed except on September 7, 11 and 12.
India’s new no-fly rule for COVID19 travel
In a zero-tolerance approach to ensuring COVID protection on board, India’s aviation regulator directs airlines to put travelers refusing to cover their face on the no-fly list. If a passenger does not comply with the obligation of wearing a mask or face covering, he/she is likely to be denied boarding or deplaned. They may also be barred from flying for a certain period of time. The crew members of a flight reserve the right to decide who to put on the no-fly list. Several major airlines, including Delta Airlines, have the same ‘no-fly’ policy for passengers amid the COVID19 pandemic. The consequences of ending up on a no-fly list may include a lifetime ban on flying in India.
New COVID19 testing facility at Newark Airport
Newark Liberty International Airport has got a COVID19 testing facility for airport employees, airline crew, and passengers. Located on Level 3 in Terminal B, the COVID testing facility has been operating for the past seven days and is currently accessible to the EWR airport workers and the airline crew. Arranged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Newark Liberty Airport’s COVID19 testing facility comprises six screening rooms and can test up to 350 individuals a day. Both antibody testing and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing are available at the EWR airport facility. Reportedly, the on-airport COVID testing facility will be available to passengers soon.
Hot meals and inflight entertainment are back on board
India’s civil aviation ministry has issued new directives for airlines operating domestic and international flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and the air transport bubble arrangement. As per the new SOP, passengers can be served pre-packed meals, snacks and beverages aboard domestic flights depending on the flight time and the policy of the operating airlines. Airlines operating international flights are also allowed to serve hot meals with limited beverages on board amidst precautions against COVID19. Airlines are directed to ensure that completely disposable trays, plates, cutlery, and containers are used on board. In all travel classes, flight attendants will be serving beverages in single-use disposable units. In-flight beverage-pouring service will continue to remain suspended. They will wear a new set of gloves for serving every meal.
Since international travel resumed under the Vande Bharat Mission, inflight entertainment had remained banned. The latest directives allow inflight entertainment on domestic and international flights. Airlines need to follow certain regulations concerning inflight entertainment, like providing disposable earphones or disinfecting earphones before every flight. With the lifting of ban on inflight entertainment, family travelers won’t have a tough time controlling kids on board.