Airlines swamped with cancellations after terror attack

Mumbai: On Friday, tour operators in the city resigned themselves to a bleak season. Their inboxes are now full and phones ring incessantly with cancellation requests from travellers from across the world-particularly for trips that have Mumbai on their itinerary. ''Cancellation by groups that had booked to be in Mumbai over the next couple of days is almost 100 percent,'' says Vikram Madhok, director of Abercrombie and Kent India. 

Agency records for the past five years show that finding tickets on flights into and out of Mumbai is impossible during winters. It's the kind of time when the government usually declares an open sky policy to allow airlines unlimited flying rights into India. After this episode, experts say that will not be needed. In fact, travel agencies expect overall traffic to be down 40 to 50 percent this season.  

Homa Mistry, CEO, Trail Blazers, a company that specialises in inbound tours for foreign tourists visiting India, said all his customers have cancelled their plans for Mumbai. Though Mumbai does not receive as much traffic as Rajasthan and Kerala, a lot of tourists like to touch base with the commercial capital, agents said.  

''A bulk of this traffic is to visit friends and relatives,'' said Madhav Oza, proprietor of Blue Star Travels, one of Mumbai's largest air-ticket consolidators. The terrorist assault in Mumbai has shaken everyone and most people are making alternate plans, he added. Airlines and travel agents typically make most of their profits during this season, as seats are blocked off and sold at peak rates. ''That looks unlikely to happen this year,'' said Oza, who owns a shop selling air-tickets at Kalbadevi in South Mumbai, where dozens of travel agents are located. Shops in the area were closed for most of the day on Friday, because of fresh rumours of firing at Marine Lines station.  

Airline passengers who had booked airlines like Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Delta remained completely confused as the airlines did not operate their usual flights to the city. Flights are expected to resume soon, but phone calls to airline offices remained unanswered. Many of them are located at Nariman Point, the central business district, which has been cordoned off by the police. 

US carrier Delta Airlines, which operates daily, non-stop flights between Mumbai and Atlanta, said it was suspending flights for the next one week in view of the situation. The airline was doing this in view of safety considerations for its crew, it said. 

However, on the domestic front, national carrier Air India and Jet Airways say there are no cancellations. Kingfisher Airlines has combined several flights on the Mumbai-Delhi route. Jet has announced that it will not charge cancellation fees for any passenger wishing to cancel and re-issue their tickets for flights to and from Mumbai. 

Cuckoo Paul is Associate Editor with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in association with Forbes, USA.