Travelling to India from Hong Kong is likely to get a lot more expensive after the near-demise of the country’s largest private airline caused a 25 per cent reduction in available seats, while fares to Delhi have soared to more than the cost of a flight to London. On Friday, Jet Airways halted all international flights leaving thousands of passengers stranded until Monday, and with staff protesting over the weekend, the airline is on the brink of collapse. Industry figures said the carrier’s woes were bad news for everyone, and predicted the cost of a seat would skyrocket with Cathay Pacific and Air India now dominating the market. Hong Kong teacher Deepen Nebhwani, 21, and his extended family were frequent travellers on Jet Airways. They now use Air India, although they are not happy about it. “My uncle flew here [Hong Kong] last month because they didn’t trust Jet. They weren’t happy about it because Air India’s seen as an inferior option,” Nebhwani said. “And rumours of random cancellations drove them to use Air India. It’s a bummer because India’s now lost a premium full service long-haul airline.” Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said passenger numbers to and from India had increased significantly, with the surge in demand contrasting sharply with the shrinking capacity. But, the last flight Jet Airways operated between India and Hong Kong was on March 22. “Jet’s suspension of Hong Kong services significantly reduces capacity to India creating higher fares and a shortage of seats,” said Poonam Nanda, director of Nanda Travel agency, which is one of the largest selling flights between India and Hong Kong. Crisis at Jet Airways worsens as government steps in and pilots threaten strike “It’s bad for everyone and once again, Indian aviation’s failure to compete internationally, means their government will be reluctant to expand air services and encourage much-needed competition.” Jet Airways has slowly fallen apart over a US$1.2 billion (HK$9.4 billion) debt mountain, and dwindling cash in hand to pay every day bills. With national elections under way, the Indian government tried to stop the carrier collapsing with the loss of thousands of jobs. However, creditors, including aircraft leasing companies, have become impatient over a rescue that failed to materialise. Aircraft have been withdrawn over unpaid leases, shrinking the ailing airline’s fleet from a height of 123 planes to fewer than 20. Ultimately it is the paying public who will feel the pain, with higher fares and fewer seats available. Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon are operating at full capacity, with 47 flights to six destinations in India a week. Any expansion would need to involve bigger aircraft. Jet had a 25 per cent market share on the Delhi to Hong Kong route, and a 32 per cent share between Mumbai, India’s financial hub, and the city. For Cathay Pacific, flying on Monday and returning Friday on a last-minute booking, it was cheaper to fly to London and back than the two key political and economic Indian cities. To London, return fares were on offer for HK$6,898. The same dates and airline to Delhi, however, was HK$9,376, and in fact it was cheaper to fly premium economy for HK$9,096. A return to Mumbai was on offer for HK$9,105. Booked in advance, airfares could be found for around HK$5,100. The loss of another airline could also effect the business ties between the two, and Arun Nigam, president of the India Association Hong Kong, pointed to the desire to increase trade. India is presently Hong Kong’s seventh largest trading partner. Founder of Jet Airways Naresh Goyal quits as troubled airline scrambles to stay afloat “Having more flights is one way to do it,” he said. “More generally Hong Kong, and particularly China in India as a place for investment and manufacturing – the two go together. The loss of Jet is very sad.” Nigam, who represents one of the largest and most influential Indian organisations in Hong Kong, said the start of a double tax treaty on April 1 meant “the opportunity” to increase exchanges and boost connectivity, rather than decrease it, had momentum. Jet’s demise came on the 11th anniversary of the start of its service to Hong Kong, with a flight from Mumbai first landing in Hong Kong on April 14, 2008. Indian carriers still have the rights to launch new services, but these do not appear forthcoming, although budget carriers Indigo and Spicejet last year launched flights from Bangalore and Delhi respectively. Kingfisher was the last major Indian carrier, but it also collapsed under a similar weight of debt and withdrew from Hong Kong as a result.