Coronavirus Pandemic

India-UAE flights suspension: Expats desperate to fly back 'at any cost'

Staff Report/Dubai
Filed on April 30, 2021
KT file photo by Shihab

Many stranded expats are now in a panic as cases in India skyrocket.

Indian expats stranded in their homeland during the catastrophic Covid-19 surge are ready to exhaust all means just to get back to the UAE as air travel remained suspended. Many are swamping private jet operators with requests, even after UAE government officials have clarified that chartered flights cannot be used to transport passengers en masse.

The suspension of flights, which has been extended until May 14, has shut down some 300 commercial flights that operated weekly on one of the world’s busiest air corridors.

Many stranded expats are now in a panic as cases in India skyrocket, with 18 million infections and more than 201,000 people dead.

India Covid crisis: 19 countries that have imposed travel bans, suspensions

T. Patel, a businessman in Dubai, is working frantically to bring back his brother’s wife and three children, currently stuck in Bangalore.

“I am exploring the private jet option. It is a lot of money but if I have no other way of bringing them back, then I will go for it,” he said.

Dozens of charter flights zipped passengers from India to Dubai in the days before the new ban, after all commercial seats were snapped up. A 13-seat jet flying from Mumbai to Dubai ranged between $35,000 and $38,000, around 35 times the price of a regular ticket. Prices from other cities are even higher.

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As the UAE travel suspension took effect, the authorities said the operation of ‘chartered flights by businessmen’ is exempted. However, such flights are subject to strict approvals from civil aviation authorities and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), officials have told Khaleej Times in a recent statement.

“The entry of this category of passengers is subject to approvals from MoFA and civil aviation authorities. It could be the use of ‘private jets’ for business purposes, however, the exemption is not meant to be used as a means of mass transport. They have to seek approvals from the airport before landing in the UAE, including providing a list of passengers on board the flights as well,” an official from the General Civil Aviation Authority has said.

Long-term Dubai resident Purushothaman Nair said he was prepared to “spend a fortune” to return to the UAE.

“My wife and I came to India for just 10 days. We have to fly back to Dubai at any cost,” he said.

“There are many people who are willing to pay up. How can people with business interests and big responsibilities in the UAE afford to stay away for a longer period?” said Nair.

The less well-off are weighing the high cost against the risk of losing their livelihoods. “I can’t afford that kind of money (for a flight). But if the choice is between losing my job and borrowing money, I will do the latter and fly back,” Jameel Mohammed said.

Chartered flights can’t be used for mass transport

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said that UAE citizens, diplomats, official delegations, golden residency visa holders and chartered flights of businessmen are exempt from the entry restrictions on inbound India-UAE flights.

In an earlier statement to Khaleej Times, however, a GCAA official clarified that business travellers cannot use the exemption to charter large numbers of passengers from India to the UAE. Exempted travellers must also take a PCR test at the airport as well as on the fourth and the eighth day after they enter the Emirates and undergo quarantine upon arrival.

— AFP (With inputs from a previous KT report)

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