Canada-India visa impasse puts flyers with tickets in fix

MUMBAI: It is common practice among passengers to book international flight tickets months in advance and apply for a visa only closer to the date of travel. That strategy to bag economical fares has backfired on passengers planning to fly between Canada and India this winter. With no fresh visas being issued by the two countries, passengers who hold an airline ticket but do not hold a valid visa or other such travel document to fly to India or Canada as the case be, are now in a fix.

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Passengers purchase tickets months in advance to book the lowest fare buckets, which typically are also non-refundable fares.”On the Toronto-Delhi route, that would be, say, about Rs 90,000 for a return ticket. Now if the passenger doesn’t hold a valid visa, he cannot travel on the given date,” said Anoop Kanuga of Bathija Travels.

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Within this category, passengers who have booked tickets on airlines such as Air India and Air Canada that fly direct between these two countries are better off than those who have booked flights that transit, say, via Europe, or West Asia.
Air India and Air Canada have offered one date change, free of cost. “The date can be moved forward by a maximum of 320 days. If the countries don’t start issuing visas by then, then the passenger has to pay for a date change the second time or lose the entire amount if he cancels the non-refundable ticket,” he said. Those who have booked a refundable ticket would need to pay the cancellation fee, which is about 300-320 Canadian dollars.

But passengers who have booked tickets on European or Middle Eastern carriers get no waivers whatsoever. “They have to pay a date change fee or a cancellation fee or if it’s a non-refundable ticket, they lose the entire amount if they cancel,” said Kanuga. “The irony is that airlines refund the entire ticket amount if the visa is rejected, even in case of a non-refundable ticket. In the current situation, since both countries aren’t issuing new visas, doesn’t it tantamount to visa rejection?”
TOI sent a query to carriers, including Air India and Air Canada, but received no response. India is Canada’s fourth largest air travel market. Passengers who hold a valid visa or an OCI card can travel between both countries.

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