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 much unlike before. From booking air tickets to boarding flights, every step entails certain regulations for travelers. In the constantly volatile scenario 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. December 31, 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.
India resumes e-visa services for some categories
Since the onset of the pandemic in India, e-visa services had been suspended. With effect from March 30, 2021, the Government of India resumed e-visa services in some visa categories. Foreign nationals can now apply for e-medical visa, e-medical attendant visa, e-business visa, and e-conference visa to India. Those who have obtained an e-visa for any of these categories on or after March 30, 2021 will be allowed entry into India. E-visas dated before March 30, 2021, are redundant.
However, e-visa services continue to remain suspended for entry X visa, emergency entry visa, student visa and employment visa to India until further notice. Only paper visa is valid for these categories. The tourist visa to India is still suspended in both paper and electronic formats.
Delhi Airport’s AI-based COVID testing facility delivers results in 10 minutes
Delhi IGI Airport is home to India’s first and only AI-enabled COVID-19 testing facility. Located in Terminal 3 for international civil flight operations, the new facility can conduct antigen tests on passengers of an entire international flight in a couple of minutes and deliver results in 10-15 minutes. This makes it easier for passengers traveling to destinations, including the United States, which require negative antigen test reports for entry. Some of the passengers of Lufthansa, Air France and KLM have successfully used the facility and got digital reports on their mobile phones. New Delhi Airport’s artificial intelligence-enabled COVID testing facility uses computer vision technology, paper-free backend and scalable node architecture to cater to last-minute testing needs of outbound international flyers.
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 wondering if Indians can travel to the US on a visitor/tourist visa in COVID19 times. Yes, Indian passport holders with a valid B1/B2 visa can travel to the US from India. However, not all airlines are allowed to fly them to the US. Currently, Indian nationals can travel only on Air India, United Airlines (nonstop flights), Qatar Airways, and Emirates Airlines flights to USA. They cannot travel on European airlines’ US-bound air bubble flights due to the United States’ restriction on transit in Europe. The US will deny entry to them if they are physically present in the Schengen area and the UK during the 14-day period preceding their arrival in the US.
Qatar’s guidelines for transit of travelers from India
Traveling to USA from India via Doha in Qatar? Effective April 29, 2021, Qatar’s guidelines for transit in Doha apply to travelers from India. It requires you to take an RT-PCR test at a medical center/lab approved by the government of India, within 48 hours prior to boarding your flight in India, and produce a negative report at the time of check-in at the departure airport. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in denial of boarding on Qatar Airways flights from India.
Guidelines for international travelers to New York State
International travelers to New York are not exempted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mandatory requirement – a negative RT-PCR test report or valid proof of recovery from COVID19. As per the latest guidelines, asymptomatic international arrivals, who are fully vaccinated, COVID negative and have recovered from laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in the past 3 months, are exempted from testing and quarantine on arrival in New York. Fully vaccinated travelers, who haven’t recovered from COVID-19 in the recent past, are recommended to get tested 3-5 days after arrival. All unvaccinated international travelers, who have not recovered from COVID-19 in the 3 months preceding their arrival in New York, are advised to get tested 3-5 days after arrival, consider optional self-quarantine (7 days if tested on day 3-5, otherwise 10 days), and avoid contact with people at higher risk for 14 days, regardless of their test results.
All international travelers flying into New York must fill out the NYS Travel Health Form, irrespective of their COVID health and vaccination status, before departure for or after arrival in New York State.
Guidelines for travelers arriving into Los Angeles
With effect on April 5, 2021, Los Angeles requires travelers (above 16 years of age) arriving from the outside of California and the country to fill out the City of Los Angeles Traveler Form online, prior to or on arrival at Los Angeles International airport (LAX). By filling out the form, they acknowledge their understanding of and compliance with the LA County Department of Public Health’s travel requirement and the State of California’s travel advisory. An individual failing to submit the form incurs a penalty up to $500.
As per the latest quarantine guidelines for Los Angeles County, fully-vaccinated individuals arriving into LA County are exempted from self-quarantine if they abide by the safety recommendations. Unvaccinated non-essential travelers flying to LA Country from other states or countries must quarantine themselves for 7 days if they choose to take a COVID-19 viral test in 3-5 days after their arrival. Those who do not take a COVID-19 viral test after their arrival must undergo self-quarantine for 10 days.
Quarantine rules for people traveling with kids to India
Following the guidelines for international arrivals that came into effect on February 23, 2021, most Indian states scrapped institutional quarantine for asymptomatic travelers arriving from abroad, with a negative RT-PCR report uploaded on Air Suvidha. Maharashtra has not scrapped its institutional quarantine policy for international passengers, but certain travelers from abroad are exempted. Read more about quarantine norms in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and other India cities.
Exemption for vaccinated international arrivals in Mumbai
Mumbai issued exemption from 7-day institutional quarantine, with effect from March 21, 2021, for vaccinated travelers arriving from or transiting via the Middle East, Brazil, South Africa, the UK, or Europe. If you have been immunized with two doses of the COVID vaccine approved in your country of residence, to say in the USA, and you are traveling on connecting flights to Mumbai from USA via Europe or Middle East, you can seek exemption and exit the airport by showing your vaccine certificate to the in-charge officer at Mumbai Airport. If your final destination is outside of Maharashtra, you can proceed for the connecting domestic flight after arrival at Mumbai Airport even though you have not been vaccinated. Read Mumbai’s guidelines for international travelers in detail.
Onsite COVID-19 test at Indian airports
Online booking of slots for COVID-19 tests at major Indian airports is available. 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. Not every passenger arriving from abroad needs to undergo a COVID test at the entry airport. Those arriving into India on nonstop flights from USA and other countries are not required to take a test on arrival provided they carry a negative RT-PCR report uploaded on Air Suvidha. If your flights to India transit in the Middle East, Europe, Brazil, or South Africa, you must take a molecular test on arrival at the entry airport in India.
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.
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.