Coronavirus: Vande Bharat Mission tickets sold out hours after direct sales started in UAE
Dubai - Bookings were open until July 15, the Air India officer said.
Tickets for special flights to several cities in India were sold out just hours after direct sales began on Monday, an Air India officer at the ticketing office told Khaleej Times. Flights to Lucknow, Delhi and Hyderabad, which are part of the Vande Bharat Mission's Phase 4, are now fully booked.
"Only tickets to the Kerala sector are available. But those seats, too, are running out fast," said the officer. The Indian Embassy in the UAE announced on Sunday that Indian expats, who have registered with missions, can secure seats on the repatriation flights on a the first-come-first-served basis, provided that they fulfil the mandatory conditions to return home.
Bookings were open until July 15, the Air India officer said. "Many bookings were made online. Now, the remaining tickets will be referred to us by the Consulate-General of India."
Hordes of people gathered outside Air India's ticketing office in Deira, Dubai, early on Monday morning. Hundreds made a beeline on both sides of the office as early as 6am, even though it opened only at 9am.
The queue went all the way to Salahuddin Metro station on the right-hand side and City Star Hotel, Deira, on the left. With social distancing rules in place, only two to three people were allowed into the office at a given time. Similar crowds were also seen at the Air India ticketing offices in Sharjah, where large crowds gathered in the hope to find tickets on the repatriation flights.
Chartered flight tickets unaffordable to most
Many of the people had to return empty-handed. One worker from Lucknow, UP, said: "I got here at 6am hoping I will get tickets to Lucknow. But we were told tickets were sold out even before I reached the start of the line."
His roommate added: "Chartered flights to Lucknow are priced at Dh1,500. It is not something we can afford." Several Indian citizens assumed commercial operations had completely resumed, the AI officer said. "That is what caused the massive rush."
Dubai Police officers arrived on site to ensure safety and control the crowds, which dwindled as the day progressed.
A majority of blue-collar workers and a few families from the Indian cities of Kolkata, Lucknow, Hyderabad and some cities in Tamil Nadu were among those seeking to purchase the tickets. A handful of women were also present.
A number of workers told Khaleej Times that they had registered on the missions' websites after the special repatriation campaign was launched in May. However, they are yet to hear from the Consulate-General of India in Dubai and the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Since the launch of the Vande Bharat Mission, chartered flights have also been operating to various Indian cities. Workers standing in the queue said they hoped to get seats on the mission as there are 'very few chartered flights' to destinations of their choice.
Khalid, a worker in Dubai, said: "I want to travel to Lucknow. There are no chartered flights being organised to my hometown. Even if there are, I cannot afford to go on them as their tickets are priced over Dh1,000. Ticket rate for Vande Bharat Mission flight is Dh730 only."
Another worker said: "I borrowed money to buy this ticket. I registered on the consulate's website but I am yet to receive a call."
Sahil Syed, a native of Vishakapatnam, said: "I have been stuck here for the last four months as my visa is cancelled. I submitted my details to the missions but haven't received a reply. There are no direct flights to my home town, so I have to go to Hyderabad. Also, I cannot afford the high prices on chartered flights. I don't know what to do."