Deepavali is the time for family reunions and all around cheer, including for airlines that see a surge in demand for travel. This year though is different as data from online travel agents shows that passengers are far more hesitant while making a flight booking.Demand for travel in the first week of November is only 8% more than the first week of October, according to travel portal Cleartrip.com. A surge in COVID-19 cases in various metros as well as concerns about likely travel restrictions mean that passengers wait until the last minute to book their travel.“One way trips account for 78% of those being undertaken between November 7 and November 15. This indicates that most customers prefer to have flexibility in travel plans and are booking closer to the date of travel,” says Cleartrip’s Aditya Agarwal, Head of Corporate Strategy. The top 10 routes are dominated by those originating in business centres such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune and destined for cities in northern and eastern parts of the country such as Jaipur, Varanasi, Lucknow, Kolkata.But, a shift towards leisure travel too is beginning to happen.‘Escape tourism’“We are also witnessing a trend of ‘escape tourism’ in metros like Delhi, where increasing level of pollution has tourists flocking to destinations like Goa in search of fresh air. We have seen a 74% month-on-month increase in bookings for Goa in October. Low airfares this year around Deepavali are also further encouraging travellers to travel for leisure,” says ixigo CEO & Co-founder Aloke Bajpai.In any given year, apart from the summer months of May-June- July, Deepavali is the most anticipated time as a surge in travel demand allows airlines to raise fares. Whereas, in the lean months of July-August-September and January-February-March airlines are forced to offer discounts to woo buyers and fill up its aircraft. This year, however, the summer season has been a washout. While flights resumed on May 25, several States continued to impose travel restrictions and quarantine rules for incoming passengers.Deepavali is also important as it will be “a bellwether test of people’s willingness to travel in the current pandemic,” according to former CSCO Vistara and former COO SpiceJet. Going by the latest trends, uncertainty and doubts in the minds of travellers continue to dog the aviation sector.