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Many more air passengers are booking return flights now than three months ago, indicating a greater openness for both business and leisure travel, and a likely return to work.

The share of return fares has witnessed a marked increase in overall air travel bookings. Industry experts said one reason is that many people are looking to return to big cities from their hometowns in smaller cities.

“Post the lockdown, we had seen a lot of one-way travel from major business centres like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi to destinations in the North and East such as Patna, Varanasi and Kolkata. In the last few weeks we have seen a reverse trend coming in, as evidenced by the presence of routes such as Varanasi-Mumbai, Patna-Bengaluru, Kolkata-Bengaluru and Kolkata-Mumbai," said Balu Ramachandran, executive vice president and global head - air product, at travel website Cleartrip. Return tickets bookings accounted for about 30-35% of total bookings before the covid-19 pandemic.

Bookings of round trips currently account for 15% of total bookings, up from 3% during June, said Nishant Pitti, chief executive officer and co-founder of online travel company EaseMyTrip. “Advance bookings, which were negligible since domestic flight operations resumed in May, have also increased during September," Pitti added.

A spokesperson for online travel portal ixigo said that return flight bookings for August have grown four times since the last week of May. “There has been a 50-55% growth in total domestic flight bookings in August as compared to May last week when flights just resumed operations," the ixigo spokesperson added.

Booking data showed that travel between metros Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi and Hyderabad top the routes. After the government allowed resumption of domestic flights in May, most bookings were made between the top tier I and tier II cities as people returned home in masses from metros, which were seeing a huge rise in covid-19 cases.

Many passengers booked only days before travel due to the uncertainty posed by varying travel restrictions enforced by states.

However, things have changed since then, with the government allowing airlines to operate at 65% of pre-covid capacity in September, and states easing restrictions.

“This probably indicates people returning to workplaces as the unlock restrictions come into place. In the last few weeks, we have also seen a surge in bookings coinciding with the easing of quarantine restrictions. Additionally, we are seeing traditionally busy routes between Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi feature back as the top sectors," Ramachandran added.

Sales of one-way tickets for travel within a fortnight of purchase have seen a steady rise, according to data from Cleartrip.

For instance, average ticket prices between top sectors like Delhi-Mumbai, Kolkata-Bengaluru, Delhi-Patna, Mumbai-Delhi are up 10-25% as compared to last year’s price.

The average price of a one-way ticket between Delhi-Mumbai, the country’s busiest sector before the covid-19 pandemic, is up 19% from last year, and a one-way ticket between Kolkata-Mumbai is up 35% from last year, for travel within a fortnight of booking, data from ClearTrip showed. According to ixigo, the top 10 booked routes in August were New Delhi-Srinagar, Patna-New Delhi, Varanasi-Mumbai, Srinagar-New Delhi, New Delhi-Patna, Patna-Bangalore, New Delhi-Mumbai, Patna-Mumbai, Lucknow-Mumbai and Ranchi-Mumbai.

Indian carriers flew 2.83 million passengers in August, down from 11.79 million in the year-ago period, showed the latest monthly data released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The passenger load factor (PLF) of major scheduled commercial airlines stood at 58-76%. In August 2019, the PLF for major carriers stood at 78-90%. PLF measures the capacity utilization of transport services, including airlines.

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