Covid-19 travel ban: Stranded Indian expats travel via Armenia, Uzbekistan to return to UAE
Travel agencies have launched packages which include flights, hotel stay, food, and PCR test.
Scores of stranded Indian expatriates are travelling to countries such as Armenia and Uzbekistan to quarantine there and return to their jobs and homes in the UAE following an entry ban from India due to the Covid crisis there.
Travel agencies confirmed Indian expats from the UAE are opting to spend 14 days in Armenian capital Yerevan and fly into the UAE. This is a more feasible option than private jets, as agencies have launched packages starting at Dh6,000 per passenger, which includes flights, hotel stay, food, and a PCR test in Yerevan.
The entry of travellers from Indian have been prohibited in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. However, exemptions are given to passengers if they underwent quarantine for 14 days in a third country. Earlier, many stranded travellers were returning to the UAE via neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. However, after the UAE announced a ban on travellers from these countries, Indian expatriates are considering newer options.
First flight on May 22
Raheesh Babu, the general manager of Musafir.com, stated that while many are risking travelling via Yerevan, some are still coughing up huge amounts to travel via private charter jets.
“Indian expats who are trying to come either via Armenia, but they will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine. But if the UAE imposes a travel ban on Armenia, similar to Nepal and some other countries, it would be risky. So, many are willing to pay double or triple the price to come by chartered flights,” explained Babu.
The agency’s first flight from India to Armenia is on the May 22, from Mumbai to Yerevan, and the passengers are scheduled to arrive in Dubai on June 6. “The package is approximately Dh6,000 to Dh7000 and includes flight, hotel stay, an Indian meal as well as PCR test in Armenia,” said Babu.
“This is the first deal that we cracked; however, there could be a five to 10 per cent increase for the next deal. Getting a full flight of passengers is difficult, so a few other travel agencies are working together by pooling resources. We also have a flight available from Kochi, which will operate in the same week. We will be operating out of Mumbai and Kochi. People from north India can reach Mumbai, and travellers from the south can board from Kochi.”
“Right now, we are only looking at Armenia because we can get a visa within four to five working days. But we are also exploring other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries. The only challenge would be if there is a new travel advisory from the UAE,” stated Babu.
Pluto Travels are also considering a similar package. Bharat Aidasani, the agency’s managing partner, said, “We are trying to arrange a charter flight for people stranded in India. They will travel to Armenia and undergo a 14-day quarantine, and then they can travel to Dubai. It is not something that we can do with single passengers. So, we are trying to collaborate with a few of our travel partners.”
“It will be a bigger aircraft — 180 to 200-passenger charter. We cannot do smaller charters because the cost is very high. The biggest challenge is the cost. The cost for the smaller charters is about Dh20,000 to Dh25,000. It is good for executives, but not for the working class. They will have to look for alternatives where they can travel to another country, quarantine and return to the UAE,” said Aidasani.
The agency is trying to arrange a package, which includes, flight, hotel, transfer and a PCR test and the pricing would be Dh7,500 approximately. “We haven’t launched it officially yet. However, we are working on a soft launch, and we are getting a good response because there are a lot of people who want to come back and resume work,” he added.
Raja Mir Wasim, manager, MICE and holidays, International Travel Services said, “Indian expats are looking at options where they are going to any other country where the UAE has not closed its borders, undergo quarantine for 14 days and then come to the UAE.”
“We hadn’t launched any package yet to Armenia, the reason being, last month when Nepal was open; we had many clients who travelled there. But Nepal too announced a lockdown, and many of them who were undergoing quarantine got stranded there. No one can guarantee which country will close its borders or announce a lockdown,” stated Wasim.
Furthermore, many states are going into lockdown in India. “This morning, West Bengal went into a lockdown until May 30. So, to come up with packages, there should be some clarity. Also, a lot of our partners or suppliers are not functioning because business was stagnant,” he added.
A few stranded Indian residents told Khaleej Times they are risking travelling to these countries as they could lose their jobs if they don’t return to the UAE soon. Airline professional Asif Abbas said, “My job profile does not have a work-from-home option. I have to come back to Dubai as soon as possible.”
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