The flight to India “fills the last remaining hole in our worldwide network,” Jimmy Eichelgruen, director, sales for India, Africa and the middle east, for the Atlanta-based airline told ET in an interview. He added that 1.3 million people travel between the US and India (one way) every year. Air India and United Airlines are the only two other carriers offering direct flights between India and US.
Delta will connect New York to Mumbai on daily flights starting Dec 24. The flights will take off at 12:55 am from Mumbai and land at the JFK airport, New York at 6:35 am. A passenger landing at that time would have connections to more than 50 US cities on Delta flights in the subsequent four hours.
An economy ticket on the 16-hour long flight will cost Rs 58,861 while the most expensive business class ticket will cost Rs 1.91 lakh. For comparison, a 21-hour long Qatar Airways flight, that includes a stopover at Doha, costs about Rs 33,000.
The return flight will leave New York at 9:25 pm and land in Mumbai at 10:25 pm. The airline will operate a Boeing 777-200 LR (Long Range) aircraft on the route.
Speaking about Delta’s decision to choose JFK for a direct connection with India, Eichelgruen said that about 250,000 Indian-Americans live in New York. “The biggest business potential for us was New York. A good number of our passengers’ end destination will be New York,” he said.
Delta has an existing interline agreement—one in which a passenger on the itinerary of one airline can travel on its partner airline’s flight—with national carrier Air India. It signed one with Vistara, the joint venture carrier between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, “a few weeks back” said Eichelgruen. The next usual step, he said is a codeshare, which allows airlines to share flight codes. He didn’t elaborate on the discussions with Vistara.
Delta, through its transatlantic partners Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic had deep commercial ties with Jet Airways which stopped flying since April and is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. Delta has codeshares with its European partners on their flights from India.
Delta’s resumption of direct flights to India was made possible after an agreement last year between the US government and UAE and Qatar to address American carriers’ concerns of Gulf carriers getting illegal subsidies from their government and offering cheap flights on several routes apart from eating into US carriers’ traffic through fifth freedom rights in through which Gulf carriers could ferry passengers from the US to other countries without even stopping at the UAE. Delta, one of the biggest, most profitable airlines in the world, had led the charge against the Gulf carriers, accompanied by American Airlines and United Airlines.
Delta flew daily non-stop flights to India between 2006 and 2009 and changed it to a one-stop flight via Amsterdam till 2015. It then stopped flying to India accusing middle-eastern carriers of siphoning traffic with cheaper flights helped by their government subsidies.
Eichelgruen said the airline would review the New York-Mumbai flight before adding more. He said bookings as well as average fares on which seats were booked were “above expectiations” without elaborating.
Eichelgruen said there never had been serious discussions on buying a stake in Jet burdened by heavy debt, as Delta wasn’t a “risk taker”.
He also said there was no thought on buying a stake in Air India which has been out on the block a second time by the government.
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