Good news for thousands of those stuck or stranded in India due to the Coronavirus-induced lockdown and travel restrictions! Air India flights for repatriation for Indian nationals stranded in the US and other countries will not take off with empty seats from India. The civil aviation ministry has called for the registration of foreign citizens, green card/OCI card holders, and Indians (holding a valid visa of the country of destination with at least one-year validity) who are seeking to travel out of India before regular flight operations are resumed. Indian nationals whose foreign visa is valid for only six months can travel on AI special flights if there is a medical emergency in the family abroad.
Air India has opened the booking window for special flights from India to the USA, the UK and Singapore. The national carrier will operate 17 special flights from New Delhi and Mumbai to Newark Liberty Airport, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago ORD Airport, London and Singapore over a week starting May 7. Air India’s repatriation flights from India to USA are priced at INR 1.4 lakh and INR 3.03 lakh per traveler in economy and business respectively. Many Indian nationals who had been seeking to repatriate to the country of residence found the one-way fares exorbitantly high.
List of Air India Special Flights from India:
May 8 and 12: Mumbai to London
In a disclaimer, Air India makes it clear, “It is the sole responsibility of the passenger to ensure his/her eligibility to enter the destination country. Air India accepts no liability in this regard.” The airline adds that passengers of special flights, in case of deportation from the country of destination, will have to pay the deportation penalty, return airfare and the cost of quarantine requirements (if any). They are required to sign and submit an undertaking for deportation charges during checking in for Air India special flights from India.
Air India requires them to ensure that they meet certain travel and health requirements of the country of destination before they book special flights to the US, Singapore and London.
Neither some of the travelers seeking to exit India nor those waiting to repatriate to India from USA are pleased with the exorbitant costs of special Air India flights. Repatriation flights from USA to India, under Vande Bharat Mission, are capped at INR 1 lakh per traveler. Indian nationals who have registered for Vande Bharat Mission flights to India from USA will have to shell out nearly INR 2 lakhs including the cost of 14-day quarantine, the cost of onward travel arrangement upon arrival in India, and the cost of transfer to the departure airport in the US.
Indian nationals stranded in the US have divided themselves into two groups over the costs of special Air India flights for repatriation under Vande Bharat Mission. One group feels indebted to the government of India for arranging their evacuation, irrespective of airfares and other costs. The other group is vexed at the monetization of their helplessness in the unprecedented situation.
India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri said unambiguously that the money charged from Indian nationals stranded in the US is lower than what it takes to operate flights for evacuation. He added that Air India is already receiving government subsidies to stay afloat, and hence it would strain the national carrier further if the cost of evacuating them is subsidized by the government.
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