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UAE flight suspension: Should stranded residents book return tickets?

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai
dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 14, 2021
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Thousands of residents are currently stranded in countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.


Travel agencies in the UAE have advised residents stranded abroad to avoid booking return tickets until government authorities issue the final date and procedures for the resumption of flights.

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Thousands of residents are currently stranded in countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Sri Lanka ever since the UAE placed inbound travel suspensions amid fears of new Covid-19 variants.

Even though major airlines have made tickets available for passengers in these countries, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) are yet to finalise an end date for the travel suspension.

“(Stranded residents) are anxious and desperate to return to their homes in the UAE. However, I would suggest that travellers wait and watch until they have clarity from official government sources,” said Mir Waseem Raja, manager for MICE and holidays at Galadari ITS.

“It is better to have clarity before booking the tickets as each airline has its refund policy. In some cases, a cash refund is possible only after seven months.”

TP Sudheesh, general manager of Deira Travel, has firmly stated that residents should not book return flight tickets unless confirmed government directives are issued. “In case a passenger has made a booking, and if there is a surge in ticket prices, he or she will still have to pay the differential amount.”

Sudheesh explained: “For example, if passengers purchased a Kochi-Dubai ticket for Dh500 and the final travel date ticket price is Dh 1,400, they still have to pay Dh900 as the differential amount. However, if another airline is offering that same ticket for Dh1,000, the travellers suffer a loss.”

As flight bookings open even without clarity on travel resumption, several expats have been taking a chance and booking tickets, hoping they could fly back at the earliest.

Abu Dhabi resident Sandeep Valsan, who went to India to attend his sister’s final rites, has booked tickets on major carriers at least five times.

“My last one was with Emirates airline, which got cancelled yesterday. I’ve booked tickets with Air India Express (AIE) and flydubai as well. In return, I’ve had no response from AIE and I have a travel voucher from flydubai, and will most likely receive another voucher from Emirates,” said Valsan. His last ticket was for a business-class seat.

“Every time the flight suspensions are extended, I get depressed. I left my wife and three-year-old daughter in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Another expatriate, Serhan Khan, has had an Emirates New Delhi-Dubai ticket that has been cancelled eight times since the end of April. “The booking is showing confirmed for July 22. The airline has these changes subject to UAE government regulations,” said Khan.

Other expatriates have told Khaleej Times that they are in a similar situation, ‘inches away from job loss and visa expiry’.

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travels, said: “Airlines have been showing fluctuating dates since April-end. While you don’t lose any money in booking, facing constant stress in date changes can take a mental toll on the individual.”

For those worried about losing out on the first available ticket back, Ahmed said: “There could be a lack of availability for two days, and fares might be higher for two days. However, in a matter of two to three days, this should regularise.”

Raheesh Babu, group COO of Musafir.com, offered the same advice: “Unless government officials give a final date, don’t book a ticket.”

Recently, the IATA Agents Association of India (IAAI) and its Consumer Protection forum IAAI Air Passenger Rights Forum (APRF) have appealed to the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation to intervene and stop airline companies from issuing tickets for sectors where a complete travel ban is in place.

“Allowing airlines to issue tickets for the sectors which are not yet officially scheduled with appropriate permissions granted by regulatory authorities and respective countries is illegal, arbitrary, ambiguous, and devoid of logic. Resumption of flight ticket reservations, while regulatory authorities suspended flight operations to UAE from India, is a blatant violation of consumer rights. This, in turn, facilitates airlines to hold the hard-earned money of passengers illegally,” the association said in a statement to Economic Times.

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

author

Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.





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