BY RATI KUMAR
Last Atlanta – Mumbai flight on October 21
Masala chai, a comfortable seat and a plethora of movies – all at 35,000 feet in the air. Delta Airlines conjured up a new convenience for the Indian Americans and those doing business with India; nonstop flights across the world. The acquisition of the ultra long range Boeing 777-200LR, helped the airline launch daily nonstop flights last year from Atlanta to Mumbai, and other places in Asia.
In November 2008, the inaugural flight to Mumbai was launched from Atlanta, the hub of southeast American business. “I recollect everything”, muses Viren Mayani, Public Relations Co-Chair at the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC) and part of the delegation on the flight. “This was a strategic flight, considering the explosive growth of the Port of Savannah (Georgia).” He says that this nonstop route helps people manage their cargo as well as take a flight from the same location, making business travel more efficient.
Ritesh Desai, the President of the GIACC, was also one of the dignitaries on the inaugural Delta flight to Mumbai and recalls it being extremely enjoyable. He emphasizes that personal travel too, became more convenient. “Before I knew it, I heard ‘We are preparing to land’.” He further states “I know of many businessmen, elderly people, and friends with children, who have found that this (flight) has made it extremely easy to fly.”
However, without a warning, the economic meltdown hit, lowering the demand for the direct flights as companies cut travel expenses. Delta moved its Atlanta – Mumbai flights to New York in June. They recently issued a statement suspending the nonstop flights altogether. The last Atlanta – Mumbai flight is scheduled for October 21 from Atlanta. Travelers to India are not the only ones to suffer. Delta has also announced the discontinuation of their nonstop flights to Shanghai and Seoul from September 1.
As for the effect of this cutback on business relations, Desai is optimistic that since more and more businesses are moving to Georgia, including a huge number of Indian businesses, the business relationship between India and Georgia will only get stronger. Mayani also observes that a significant amount of non- resident Indian funding is being attracted by states like Gujarat, thereby emphasizing the need for swift connectivity to India.
Desai notes that the new Indian Consulate being established in Atlanta by the end of 2009 will further act as a catalyst for trade ties. “Having a consulate in itself makes a huge difference. “ He emphasizes how the current consulate in Houston and the honorary consulate in Atlanta have helped develop the business relationship between the states and also between India and Georgia. He states that according to the Georgia Ports Authority, “they have seen more than a 200% growth in container traffic from India alone.”
Mayani strongly believes that once the new Indian consulate is set up in Atlanta it will start regenerating the business sector, which in turn will give a boost to the airline industry. He says, “Don’t look at the consulate only in terms of personal travel. It will also provide a boost to business travel.”
As for maintaining loyalty toward Delta, Desai says, “Delta is still the preferred airline for most of us. Taking the product to the market will take longer, but the people who need to go to India, will still go to India”. However, the world seems a little round these days, Mr. Friedman; especially for those on the wrong side of home.