Coronavirus Pandemic

India-UAE flights: Pay Dh22,000 for one-way ticket, and wait for two weeks

Joydeep Sen Gupta in New Delhi/New Delhi
Filed on May 18, 2021
File photo for illustrative purpose

Charter flight operators making a killing, as stranded Indian expats seek to return to their jobs at their earliest.

I had a one-way ticket to ride on April 26 to attend a medical emergency back home, as my wife had tested Covid-19 positive three days earlier and her oxygen saturation (SPO2) was going down at an alarming level.

I landed in the small hours the following day amid an all-round panic in India’s national capital over a lack of liquid medical oxygen cylinders, overwhelmed hospitals, overflowing corpses at mortuaries, and an acute space crunch in crematoria, burial grounds and cemeteries for a dignified farewell to the dead.

Delhi beggared description, as India became a bereaved nation barely eight weeks — February 21 to be precise — after the government had prematurely proclaimed that it had won over the Covid-19 challenge.

Three weeks later, there is a sharp fall in daily Covid-19 cases to less than 300,000 — clouded by lack of tests — and a severe shortage of vaccines mirror.

Data is at odds with ground realities that appear to be reinforced by cold statistics of a staggering 66,866 people, who have died due to the contagion since the beginning of May.

Amid the all-pervasive doom and gloom, there was a silver lining, as my wife was discharged from hospital on Sunday (May 16) and I started weighing my options to head back to Dubai, even though India has suspended flight operations to the UAE till May 31 to keep the contagion at bay.

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Stranded Indian expats travel via Armenia, Uzbekistan to return to UAE

Initially, the UAE had suspended flight operations from India for 10 days from April 24 following the spiralling number of new daily Covid-19 infections and now the ban is in place till May 31.

But what can UAE residents and Indian nationals like me do to get back and resume work at the earliest?

Well, elaborate research and multiple calls to several travel agents evoked a dreary picture.

India — a happy hunting ground for a parallel economy whenever a crisis of any hues such as demonetisation to Covid-19 strikes the nation — has its task cut out because its nationals are not welcome to any of the countries on the “Green List”, which are unaffected by the viral scourge.

So, from Uzbekistan to Armenia that has been wooing Indians to boost their tourism revenue have shut their doors on Indians.

A visa on arrival for Indian nationals with a valid UAE resident visa is passé, as an overnight Dh300 fee has been slapped to deter their arrival.

The Armenians have been rejecting Indians’ visa applications with alarming regularity because the Central Asian nation has been used by my enterprising compatriots as a third country to enter the UAE following a 14-day mandatory quarantine in the getaway.

Bahrain in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is also out of bounds, as all flights are sold out till June 15.

What option do I and many like me have to fly back to the UAE?

“Have bountiful cash and will fly you” is the growing mantra of the private eight-seater charter aircraft operators that have mushroomed across Indian cities and are laughing all the way to the bank, taking advantage of the desperate situation.

It’s the parallel economy that’s striking us with a vengeance.

A seat on a charter flight, which is up for grabs on a first-come-first-served basis, costs a minimum of $6,000 (Dh22,000), as on Tuesday (May 18), and the next available seat is likely to be a good two weeks away.

The charter flight operators are making a killing at the expense of hapless stranded Indian nationals, who are hanging by a thread to hold on to their jobs while contending with the lethal contagion that’s wreaking havoc on their physical and emotional wellness.

Perhaps, divine intervention is the need of the hour, as governance has collapsed, and crooks, as always, are having a field day.

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