Bangladeshis stuck in Calcutta following the suspension of visas by India scrambled to get tickets on flights back to Dhaka on Sunday, fearing that most airlines would withdraw their service between the two cities.
Many passengers said they had to bring forward their departure because of the fear that the air link might be snapped as a preventive measure to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Bangladeshis in Calcutta had come for treatment or to visit relatives.
Metro had on Friday reported that the air link between Calcutta and Dhaka might be snapped because of India’s decision to suspend visas. The bureau of immigration, which functions under the ministry of home affairs, had on March 11 issued a statement saying all visas — except diplomatic, official and work visas — had been suspended from March 13 till April 15.
“We were supposed to leave on Wednesday. But friends and family were telling us to return home early because flights between Calcutta and Dhaka might be suspended for an indefinite period,” said Imranur Rahman, from Bangladesh’s Chittagong.
Rahman’s wife Asma Afroz underwent surgery at a hospital in Bangalore. “We were supposed to get the reports on Tuesday and leave Calcutta on Wednesday. When we told doctors that flights to our country might be suspended, they sent the reports yesterday,” she said.
Rahman said they had tried to reach Dhaka through other routes — via Colombo or Delhi — but the flights to the Bangladesh capital were cancelled. “I bought tickets but the flights got cancelled. We are flying out today. The ticket prices have gone up drastically but we cannot afford to wait,” he said.
The couple and their daughter took the 4.25pm Regent Airways flight to Dhaka from Calcutta.
Sanjoy Ghosh, a resident of Belghoria, was at the airport to see off sister Papri Ghosh and her family, who are from Chittagong. “Their flight to Chittagong was cancelled and they were asked to take this flight to Dhaka,” said Sanjoy.
Munir Hussain, a resident of Dhaka, and his family were returning by the Regent flight to Dhaka. Hussain, his wife Kamiz and their son Yusuf had gone to Bangalore.
“We had our tickets booked on Sunday because after today there might not be any flight for the time being,” Hussain said.
The display board near boarding gates only had information about flights bound for Dhaka and Dubai. An airport official said most international passengers leaving Calcutta over the past few days were headed for Bangladesh or the United Arab Emirates.
Two Bangaldeshi airlines said they operated ferry flights on Sunday, bringing empty aircraft to Calcutta from Dhaka to fly Bangladeshis home.
An official of Regent Airways said about 170 passengers were on the flight that left Calcutta for Dhaka on Sunday afternoon. “We are not charging extra from passengers who have brought forward their departure to Sunday,” the official said.
The US Bangla, too, operated a ferry flight on Sunday. An official of the airline said they would operate a last flight on Monday before suspending operations for now.
Biman Bangladesh and Novoair, two other Bangladeshi carriers, have stopped flying between Calcutta and Dhaka.