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Air India’s airfare hike a bolt from the blue for expatriates

National carrier’s repatriation flights in phase 3 of Vande Bharat Mission from June 10

Hundreds of stranded Indians in West Asia had been hit hard by the hike in the airfare for repatriation flights to be operated by national carrier Air India in the phase three of Vande Bharat Mission set to take off from June 10.

The one-way airfare in the economy class from the key three airports at Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to the four airports in Kerala has gone up from ₹18,760 (950 Riyals) to ₹33,635 (1,703 Riyals) when the airline opened its booking for phase III.

The one-way airfare in the national carrier from Jeddah to Cochin and Thiruvananthapuram had gone up from 1,000 Riyals to 1,700 Riyals. In the Business class, the fare has touched 2,470 Riyals. From Dammam, one has to pay 1,170 Riyals to Kochi and 1,773 to Kannur.

Compared to the hike in the airfare in the Saudi Arabia-Kerala sector, there is only marginal increase in the airfare in the Qatar-Kerala sector. The one-way airfare has gone up only from 766 Riyals to 780 Riyals.

Air India Express, low-cost arm of the national carrier Air India (AI), that is gearing up to operate 107 flights from West Asia and South East Asian countries in the phase III has not steeply increased the fare like Air India. “Fares had gone up six to seven AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham),” airline sources said. AI officials were not available for comments.

For many in Saudi Arabia who had been awaiting eagerly to return to the home soil, the hike in the airfare was a bolt from the blue as they came to know only after reaching the airline offices.

No other option

“The flyers had no other option other than to borrow money and book the seats as bulk of the flights are handled by Air India from Saudi Arabia and uncertainty prevails over the commencement of the commercial flights,” Feroz Khan, a social worker from Riyadh, said. “There was marginal increase in airfares in the Phase II. We were told that everything is decided at Delhi. But, now the Union government has taken the Non-Resident Indians for a ride at these testing times,” he said.

The Vande Bharat Mission was kicked off by the Centre on May 7 to bring back stranded Indians on a payment basis amid the COVID-19-induced lockdown. It also permitted foreign nationals and valid visa-holders to book seats on these flights.

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