United is first foreign carrier to skip smog-hit Delhi; others may follow suit

United Airlines has cancelled its flights to Delhi for two days due to bad air quality in the national capital.

While the US-based airline was earlier offering waivers on rescheduling of tickets, it has now decided to cancel its Newark-Delhi flights on Friday and Saturday (arriving Saturday and Sunday nights).

The airline is transferring affected passengers to other airlines. United operates 267-seat Boeing 777 aircraft on the route, with a journey time of over 14 hours.

The airline said it was temporarily suspending all flights to Delhi as the region is under a health emergency. It said they are monitoring the situation and are coordinating with concerned government agencies.

A representative of the airline told CNN they are monitoring advisories as the region is under a public health emergency.

United issued a travel waiver on Thursday under which customers travelling to Delhi between 9 and 13 November could book a comparable ticket leaving on or before 18 November at no additional cost.

The company stated that at times when severe weather or major events seem to impact operations, it issues travel waivers to allow the passengers change to alternate flights without paying any changing fee.

It is not known if competing airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Etihad and KLM offered any similar waiver.

It is feared that the smog in Delhi would hit tourism; industry chamber Assocham on Friday said foreign tourists might skip Delhi in favour of other cleaner destinations. Tour operators, however, have not seen any cancellations yet, according to Business Standard.

''The pollution has generated a lot of negative publicity for the destination (Delhi) globally. However, there have been no cancellations in bookings,'' Dipak Deva, managing director of inbound tourism division, Thomas Cook group, told BS.

Karan Anand, head (relationships), Cox & Kings, said, ''We are not seeing any cancellations from tourists at this point. Guests are arriving according to schedule and they move out of Delhi immediately, so there is no cause for concern.''

Assocham, which interacted with 350 tour operators and sought their feedback, said, ''International tourists are quite particular about their health and safety. In the wake of such negative developments, Delhi is bound to drop off the map of international tourists, who might pick cleaner South Asian destinations. Even domestic tourists are avoiding Delhi.''

Delhi and parts of northern India have been engulfed in smog since Monday, raising serious health concerns. Air pollutants, especially PM 2.5 and PM10 levels have been over ten times higher than permissible. Delhi schools were shut for the week.

The smog levels were reported to have decreased today but air pollution remained in the 'severe' category.