UAE residents stuck in India wait for ‘official confirmation’ to book on return flights

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Stuck in limbo? Travel industry sources remain hopeful that the ban on flights from India will be lifted by mid-July itself, or latest by early August.
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Dubai: UAE residents stuck in India are waiting for an ‘official confirmation’ from the authorities – and airlines – before booking their return tickets. Emirates airline has said it would resume flights from India on July 15, while Abu Dhabi’s Etihad is targeting a July 21 restart of operations from that country.

However, passengers are a bit skeptical due to frequent date changes. “When the border was opened the first time, people started booking – but now that they have been given the new dates, they are waiting for an official confirmation,” said a spokesperson for Utravel, a Dubai-based travel agency. (Utravel continues to get requests from ‘gold’ visa holders, who are currently exempt from the flight ban.)

Flights from India to Dubai were initially expected to resume on June 23, but was later postponed to July 6. Now, due to the fast-spreading ‘Delta plus’ variant of the COVID-19 virus in India, the UAE authorities have taken a more cautious approach to resuming travel between the countries. Hundreds of stranded passengers are reaching out to travel agencies to know about the latest updates and make a return plan as soon as possible.

Full up on Emirates

Abu Dhabi-based Regal Tours said it was getting more than 300 calls and WhatsApp messages in a day. “The Economy class is already full from July 16 to July 22 for Emirates, [but] Etihad not much because of ICA (Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship) approval issues,” said a spokesperson for Regal.

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If returning to the UAE and the visa has been issued by any other emirate, apart from Dubai, the traveller would need to apply for an ICA approval.

Airlines get swamped

Emirates on Monday said its contact centres were experiencing a greater volume of calls than anticipated. The carrier urged passengers to call if the travel is only happening within the next 48 hours “If your flight has been cancelled or impacted by route suspensions due to COVID-19 restrictions, you don’t need to call us immediately for rebooking,” said the airline on its website.

Status quo on other routes

Passengers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are flying to UAE via countries that have travel corridors with Dubai or Abu Dhabi. “Those coming from India usually take a flight to another country, and they will stay there for 14 days; after that, they will book a ticket to Dubai,” said a spokesperson for Rezbook Travel Agency. “They go to Bahrain, Singapore or Maldives depending on their budget. We are watching carefully for new updates from the health organization.”

The opening of India-UAE routes “will not take long because schools will open in August,” said the agent, who expects flights to be back in full flow before September.

Chartered flights hit

After the initial ban, private jet travel between Indian cities and UAE had taken off in a big way. However, numbers have taken a plunge since UAE’s aviation authorities placed limits on passengers and seats. More recently, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) warned that operators selling seats individually on UAE-bound chartered flights from COVID-19 hotspots will be banned from flying in the country.

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“The number of private flights to Dubai saw a significant increase during the pandemic, especially during  Christmas,” said a spokesperson for Fast Private Jet, a chartered flight operator. In the first three months of 2021, the number of flights to Dubai soared by 116 per cent, followed by a gradual stabilization, said the company.

It’s not just Indian passengers who have become reluctant to fly with the current regulations. Private flights from UK decreased by 37 per cent due to the “constant evolution of the restrictions put in place by the authorities there,” said the spokesperson.

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