Fly to Jaffna Airport, Srilanka- What we know so far!

Earlier this week there was a news of Air India Subsidiary Alliance Air running a trial flight to Jaffna Airport in Srilanka. [News on TNM]. I saw the news but there was not much practical info about flight schedule, fare etc. Air India website wasn't evening showing Jaffna airport code (JAF). So I decided to wait for a few days and see if there'll be any new development- but there has been none.

So writing this post to compile information available so far and my thoughts.

History: Jaffna is in the northern tip of Srilanka. The airport here was second only to Colombo and was in existence since long time ago. Media reports state that there were flights between India and Jaffna in the 60s and 70s. But when the Srilankan civil war broke, LTTE took control of most of the territory in the northern Srilanka, the Jaffna airport was closed for civilian flights. Srilankan airforce maintained control over the airfield and used for military purposes since then.

Since end of LTTE, Jaffna airport was open for domestic flights. But there were no scheduled flights as per my knowledge- neither national airline Srilankan operated any flights, nor the charter/regional operator Cinnamon Air. Read about my post on Srilankan domestic flights. Only charter flights could be booked to Jaffna- if you have money to pay for entire flight that is.

Now, after 40-50 years, the Jaffna airport has been readied for International civilian flights again and Srilankan tourism would hope more flights and more tourists to the country via this airport.

While Air India subsidiary Alliance Air flew an ATR to Jaffna from Chennai, there're no details about the service- what would be the fare, from when the flights will start and so on. As of now, neither Air India website, nor Srilankan's website recognize Jaffna, JAF or Palaly airport. Essentially they've not added the airport code to their database yet. Nothing in media section, no mailers were sent to loyalty members about new flight- so my guess is the test flight this week was just a courtesy one and other decisions are yet to be made and details are yet to be worked out.

What should be the flight fare between Jaffna and Chennai?
Chennai to Colombo return fare costs around INR 8000+ at the minimum. (during sales, low demand times) and around 10 to 12k during normal times. During Indigo/Srilankan sales you can book for about Rs 3500 for Chennai-Colombo, about 5500 or so for the return (due to higher airport taxes I guess)- round trip ranging between 8k to 9k. Jaffna being closer to Chennai and expectedly cheaper in terms of airport fees, fares should be cheaper than what it costs to fly to Colombo.

Thus I think a round trip fare of about INR 5000-5500 between Chennai and Jaffna will be very tempting. I would book a trip right away just like that to experience Jaffna. But we don't know how Air India's pricing managers think. They will probably think "We are the only airline flying to Jaffna- those who want to reach Jaffna otherwise have to fly to Colombo, take a train/taxi etc, so let us make money by pricing Jaffna ticket higher than Colombo". Even this is a possibility- might work for businessmen or locals who have a compulsion to travel but will be a dampener for tourists. So if return ticket costs more than 8000-9000 INR then I won't have a motive to book right away. Will wait and watch.

Any international trip from India costs 7000-8000 INR minimum for a round trip. (Delhi-Kathmandu, Kolkata-Dhaka, Kochi-Male, Chennai-DMK/KUL etc). If Air India-Alliance Air can price Chennai-Jaffna cheaper- at under 6000 INR return, then it will most likely be the cheapest international flights Indians can ever book. Let us wait and see.

Also since Srilankan Govt will be trying to promote Jaffna, airlines might be able to negotiate some sort of subsidy or concession initially and keep the ticket price lower.

Another thing to watch out for is the ex-Srilanka fare for coming back. If Colombo-Chennai costs 6000 INR and Jaffna-Chennai costs say 3000 INR, you can save money by entering via Colombo, explore and return via Jaffna.

Just one ATR flight is not good enough to sustain an international airport. But it is a start for sure. For taxi/tour operators, hotel operators to invest we will need few more flights to Jaffna. Srilankan should look at running couple of daily flights between Colombo and Jaffna, may be a few weekly flights to various Indian cities (Tuticorin, Coimbatore, Delhi etc) from Jaffna. Cinnamon air can be convinced to operated scheduled flights. If demand can be established, Indigo, Spicejet will be more than happy to add a few flights. All these will take a few months if at all. Let us wait and see.

What to do after reaching Jaffna? What to see?
You can plan a trip to Northern Srilanka ex-Jaffna. Sigiriya is about 300 kms/6-7 hours by road. Trincomalee is 250 kms. There're many national parks, forests in northern Srilanka not explored much by tourists. Mannar Island is some 150 kms from Jaffna (Mannar is the closest point to India- some 30 kms from Dhanushkodi- Ram Sethu reportedly connected India to Srilanka at these points). Thus using public transport or taxi, one can plan 4-5 day trip around Northern Srilanka ex-Jaffna easily. Longer if you wish, by visiting further down south.
Overnight stay can be planned in bigger towns like Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Trinconmalee etc

Jaffna Airport is 16 kms from city. Details about public transport are not known yet. Hopefully affordable transport options will be provided once flights commence. More about Jaffna Airport on Wikipedia

What are your thoughts? Are you excited? Will you book if return ticket is priced attractively? (under INR 6000 or less). As of now Srilanka is offering free visa on arrival for Indians.

Oct 27 Update: No change in status in past one week. No new updates

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