Air India rejigs and cancels some USA & Europe routes due to Pakistan Airspace closure

Pakistan closed its entire airspace on February 27, 2019. Since then, they have opened the airspace up for very few flights. Every day, they delay the opening of their airspace for overflying flight, and there is no schedule at the moment about when will be the international aviation community be able to use Pakistan’s airspace again.

The prolonged closure has significant implications for many carriers that overfly Pakistan to fly west, especially Air India. Air India operates more than 100 weekly flights to the USA and Europe combined, and all of them used to fly over Pakistan. Ever since the airspace closed, all these flights were affected. Flights to the USA became one-stop, initially via Sharjah (for refuelling), and then via Vienna recently.

According to Business Standard, Air India was incurring a daily loss of INR 3 crores due to the longer flight route and also the technical stop. But as the opening up of the airspace is now a moving target, Air India has rejigged its earlier strategy to minimise the financial impact.

Flights to Europe

Air India’s flights to Europe from Delhi travel all the way to the Mumbai waypoint, and continue over UAE to Europe to avoid Pakistan airspace. This has increased the travel journey by over an hour each way.

Air India USA

AI 121 Delhi to Frankfurt taking the longer route to avoid Pakistan Airspace Source: Flight Radar

Flights to the USA

Flights to the USA are affected even more, as almost all outbound flights have to make a technical stop for refuelling. In the initial days of airspace closure, all outbound flights to the USA had a technical stop at Sharjah instead of operating non-stop. The inbound journey would operate nonstop.

AI 173/174 and AI 183/184 Delhi-San Francisco

Air India operates 9x weekly flights on Delhi-San Francisco route split between 6x weekly AI 173/174 and 3x weekly AI 183/184. Air India used to anyways fly the outbound flight to San Francisco over the Pacific.

Air India USA

AI 173 Delhi to San Francisco taking the Pacific route Source: Flight Radar

But the inbound flights to Delhi from San Francisco uses a longer route as they fly over UAE, enter India through Mumbai airspace and then go North to Delhi. The detour has increased the flying time to ~18 hours. Air India usually operates the route with a Boeing 777-200LR which is meant for such ultra long haul routes.

Air India USA

AI 174 San Francisco to Delhi taking a longer route Source: Flight Radar

But sometimes a Boeing 777-300ER is rostered, and it has to make a technical stop at Sharjah for refuelling.

Air India USA

AI 184 San Francisco to Delhi Source: Flight Radar

AI 127/126 Delhi – Chicago and AI 101/102 Delhi – New York JFK

Air India, during the initial days of Pakistan airspace closure, used Sharjah as a technical stop for AI 127 to Chicago and AI 101 to New York JFK from Delhi. But as Sharjah was proving to be expensive and inconvenient for Air India, Air India shifted the stop to Vienna at least till April 30, 2019.

Air India USA

AI 127 Delhi to Chicago with a technical stop at Vienna Source: Flight Radar

There will also be a crew change at Vienna who will then operate the second leg of the journey, Vienna-Chicago/JFK on the next day.

Air India USA

AI 101 Delhi to JFK with a technical stop at Vienna Source: Flight Radar

AI 103/104 Delhi – Washington DC

Air India operates a 3x weekly Boeing 777-300ER service between Delhi – Washington DC. Due to the Pakistan Airspace closure, AI 103 to Washington DC will now have a technical stop at Mumbai instead of Sharjah while AI 104 will operate nonstop to Delhi but will take a longer route just like all the inbound USA/Europe flights to Delhi.

Air India USA

AI 103 Delhi to Washington with a technical stop at Mumbai Source: FlightAware

AI 144/191 Mumbai – New York Newark

Air India will operate Mumbai – New York Newark route nonstop but with payload, restrictions to compensate for the longer route. The schedule is as follows:

AI191 BOM0130 – 0815EWR
AI144 EWR1415 – 1410(+1)BOM

Cancelled routes

Air India had launched a three times weekly Mumbai – New York JFK route back in December 2018. But due to the closure, Air India seems to be unable to operate the route due to constraints and have merged it with AI191/AI144 between March 16 and May 30, 2019.

Booking for non-stop Mumbai- New York JFK route on AI 105/106 is only open from June 2, 2019.

Air India USA

Air India Mumbai to JFK nonstop from June 2, 2019

Air India has also cancelled a few flights to Europe as well, which include Delhi – Madrid – Delhi service, Delhi – Birmingham – Delhi and Amritsar – Birmingham – Amritsar service. It may be due to combinations of a few reasons. Since Air India has to take a longer route, the economics may not be working out for these flights.

It also could be, that due to the increased block time on all flights to Europe, Air India won’t have a spare operational aircraft for the regular roster, plus crew shortage. Air India has 5 Boeing 787-8 grounded out of its fleet of 27 Boeing 787-8 for quite some time now.

Air India is only offering a refund for the cancelled flights and no alternative flights for their ‘valued’ passengers. Wow.

Air India USA

Air India cancelled flights

Bottomline

The prolonged closure of Pakistan airspace, with no opening in sight, is taking its toll on Air India, which anyways finds it tough to make ends meet. Other airlines are impacted as well, but Air India more so, due to their extensive network and Delhi being the hub of their operations. Hopefully, Pakistan would open up their airspace soon for everyone so that flight operations can be brought back to normal.

What do you think about the schedule changes and cancellations by Air India in the wake of the aeropolitical issues with Pakistan?

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Comments

  1. I had booked to Madrid and left high and Dry. My entire itinerary is booked with mostly non refundable hotel and internal air tickets. AI does not even provide an alternative and now the flight tickets are exorbitant. This is ridiculous.

    • @kaydee I don’t understand what part of that is Air India’s fault. The flight still operates, and there is no other flight from India to Madrid. Any flight from Delhi to Madrid will still have to be 1.5-2 hours longer due to the Pakistan airspace closure so why not contact your travel insurance.

  2. So the flying time for the Delhi to Chicago flight is OVER 19 hours? That is very long.
    The total time for Delhi to Chicago is posted as 21 hours 40 mins. I’m assuming the Stop over in Vienna would be around 2 hours.

    Is there any possibility of resuming direct flights in April without the diversion? Is there a formal date of the resumption of Delhi to Chicago without Detour.

    I had booked my tickets in March, and at that time wasn’t told there would be a diversion. So the flight time increased from 15 hours to 21:40 minutes. Does Air India provide refunds? I can’t even reach their customer service. No one picks their phone.

    Thanks

  3. Can someone please tell me whether passengers are allowed to come out of the plane in Vienna or they are suppose to stay in their seats.

  4. A friend who works for the airline says that it’s only the pilots that has a break in Vienna, not the whole crew, I wonder why? I hear they have a whole set of crew that travel to Vienna in uniform on seats and then switch with the crew that worked the last leg. Can’t be easy, don’t envy them.

  5. AI should look for an alternative of Mumbai or ahmedabad for these flights and then use
    existing domestic network between DEL-BOM/AMD as feeder to these affected flights. Passengers ex Delhi can be directly routed to BOM/AMD

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