KOLKATA: Three charter flights from the UAE, scheduled to land in Kolkata between August 13 and 15, are set to end a month-long lull in international flight arrivals at the Kolkata airport.
The state had halted repatriation flights to the city on July 1, citing rising Covid infections. On Friday, it eased the restrictions by allowing international charter flights to operate with only Covid-negative passengers.
Two days after the government gave the green light, private carrier IndiGo received requisitions for the three flights: from Dubai on August 13, Abu Dhabi on August 14 and Sharjah on August 15.
The airline has asked the charter operator to ensure that all passengers comply with the precondition of a Covid-negative test, which has to be conducted within a 96-hour window prior to departure. That means, those boarding the August 13 flight have to be tested after August 9. “We are getting a lot of queries since the Bengal government announced a revision in its policy and allowed charter flights. As many as eight to 10 flights are proposed between August 13 and 31,” said an airline official.
Other airlines like Emirates, SpiceJet and Accretion Aviation Services are also in the process of initiating international charter flights, said an industry insider.
IndiGo officials said the flights were slotted after part payments were received. The airline will now require approvals from UAE authorities, the ministry of external affairs in India and the state government. “The approval-seeking process has been initiated. If we get the approvals in three days, the flights would be on course,” said the official.
The embargo on Vande Bharat flights continues. But the easing of norms comes as a breather to those from Bengal and other eastern states, who have been stranded across the world for over four months now.
While the charter proposal has been welcomed, there are apprehensions that stranded Indians who are at the end of their tether would have to pay through their nose to fly back home, as there are no caps on charter flight fares.
“There have been a significant number of Kolkatans stranded in the UK, Dubai and Singapore for the last several months who are striving to come back to the city,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), Travel Agents Federation of India. “They are even willing to pay premium rates.” and hence the initiation of charter flights to the city will help them. There are also some businessmen in Kolkata who have work abroad. I know a person who is willing to book a charter flight all by himself to travel to Bangkok for work, and he is willing to pay Rs 30 lakh for the one-way journey. But there are also others, who will be unable to pay such high fares to make the trip.”
Journey on a private charter flight with 180 passengers from Dubai will cost around Rs 50,000 per head. For a one-way journey between Bangkok and Kolkata with 180-odd passengers, the price per ticket would be around Rs 20,000. The challenge, Punjabi said, would be to publicise the flight and get more passengers so that fares are lower.Twitter has been flooded with appeals from hapless Kolkatans pleading for resumption of flights to Kolkata. Maitreyee Sen Paul wrote tagging AAI and Kolkata airport: “My father is stranded in Dubai since Feb’ 2020. He is trying to come back to Kolkata but due to the lockdown in Kolkata airport he cannot. When you are planning to open the airport for international passengers?”
Another Kolkatan, Ujjwal Dutta, has written tagging the PMO, chief minister Mamata Banerjee and civil aviation minister Hardeep S Puri. “We are stranded in Dubai and waiting to get flights to Kolkata. Kindly open Kolkata airport so that we can return home.”