Stranded In India, Expats Scramble To Escape India’s COVID Horror Using Private Jet Loophole
On Saturday, we noted how India’s super-wealthy have been in a panic to flee the country’s exploding COVID-19 crisis – taking private jets to London before the UK adds their country to its “red list” of restricted pandemic-stricken nations.
Now, AFP reports that Indian expats who live and work in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but were on travel to India are desperately scrambling to return to Dubai. Fearing a prolonged flight ban between India and the UAE, the expats are trying to use an exemption granted to private business planes instituted last year during the first wave of the pandemic.
According to the report, “After the UAE shut its airspace to curb the spread of coronavirus in March last year, some residents raised the funds for seats on shared chartered planes that were permitted to fly to Dubai.”
India on Thursday reported 379,257 new COVID-19 cases and 3,645 deaths – the most since the pandemic began. To date, India has recorded nearly 18.4 million cases and almost 205,000 dead.
Meanwhile, some 3.5 million Indian expats are estimated to live and work in the UAE.
On Sunday, some 300 weekly commercial flights were suspended in the latest pandemic flight restrictions in one of the world’s most busy air corridors – stranding not only low-paid workers on short-term contracts, but also members of wealthy families who traveled to India for holidays, work or medical emergencies.
One Indian businessman living in Dubai, T Patel, is desperately trying to bring his brother’s wife and three children back from Bengaluru, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka which has a population approaching 10 million.
“I am exploring the private jet option. It is a lot of money but if I have no other way of bringing them back, then I will go for it,” said Patel, who added that he paid $10,500 to get his parents and niece to Dubai – around 20x the cost of regular tickets.
“I waited for two months and finally hired a private jet for $42,000, the cost of which was shared by a few equally desperate residents,” he said.
Days before the new travel ban, dozens of charter flights brought passengers from India to Dubai. Charter companies say demand has since surged.
To charter a 13-seat jet from Mumbai to Dubai costs between $35,000 and $38,000 – around 35x the price of a regular ticket. Prices are even higher between other cities. That said, operators are now looking to the government to clarify rules surrounding private planes landing in the UAE.
“Chartered flights need to get approval from the General Civil Aviation Authority and the foreign ministry to operate. But we do not know who is exempted to travel,” according to Tapish Khivensra, CEO of Enthral Aviation Private Jet Charter.
According to civil aviation authorities,UAE nationals, diplomats, official delegations and “businessmen’s planes” are excluded from the Sunday ban, as long as passengers adhere to a 10-day quarantine.
Purushothaman Nair, a long-term resident of Dubai, said he was ready to “spend a fortune” to return to the UAE.
“My wife and I came to India for just 10 days. We have to fly back to Dubai at any cost,” he told AFP. “here are many people who are willing to pay up. How can people with business interests and big responsibilities in the UAE afford to stay away for a longer period?” asked the government employee.
“The fear of contracting the virus is a bigger worry.”
Another worker, Jameel Mohammed who hasn’t seen his young son for more than two years, told AFP: “If I cannot make it in a few weeks, my job is on the line. My employer is already putting pressure on me and asking me to travel to the UAE via other countries.”
“I can’t afford that kind of money. But if the choice is between losing my job and borrowing money, I will do the latter and fly back.”
Thu, 04/29/2021 – 17:30