Travel industry upbeat over KLM flights from city
KOLKATA: Tour operators are delighted with the news that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is going to resume its flights to the city this week. Coming as it does at the beginning of summer, the Travel Agents Association of India is confident that the flight will become popular in no time.
“The SARS scare is blowing over. The war in Iraq has ended. Things are looking up for the airlines industry and it’s perfect time to resume connections after an eight-month hiatus,” TAAI chairman (east) Sanjoy Sett said.
With an increasing number of outbound tourists travelling to western countries instead of South-East Asia following the outbreak of SARS, travel agents in the city endorsed Sett’s view. The flight will connect Amsterdam with Kolkata via Delhi. The first flight though will bring home only 19 passengers when it touches down at the NSCB International Airport at 1.55 am on Wednesday and take off with 23 passengers at 3.45 am. Trade circles attribute the measly figures to the haste with which the flight is being re-introduced.
KLM sources admitted that they did not have time to publicise or market the flight. “It was a rushed re-introduction following an ultimatum from the Union civil aviation ministry,” they said. According to ministry sources, civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain had indeed threatened to withdraw the recently granted permission to three additional KLM connections between Delhi and Amsterdam if it did not touch Kolkata. “Though KLM had argued that the passenger load factor wasn’t enough to make the connection viable, the travel industry pointed out that it had 100-plus passengers in both directions. The low load factor was for only a couple of months in winter and that’s usual,” the sources said.
Sett was confident of the flight’s success in Kolkata. “Just look at the nine night flights to Mumbai from Kolkata. They are virtually packed and a large number of passengers happen to be international travellers on their way to board international flights to the West,” he pointed out.
Nearly all international airlines have increased capacity over the last two years. Singapore Airlines has introduced a third flight from Kolkata. British Airways has doubled its capacity with the introduction of Boeing 747 on the route instead of B-777. Royal Jordanian Airlines, too, has introduced a second flight and Bangladesh Biman has a daily flight to Dhaka.
“Not only has travel from Kolkata to the western countries increased, but demand outstrips supply. BA has no seats available on the next flight despite operating a 380-seater aircraft three days a week,” Sett said.