If you go to Indigo’s website right now, you can see results for flights from June 1 (I tried Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi). Airlines are strapped for cash and they have opened bookings to bring money in. Just to put into context why they’re getting desperate, the aviation industry in India is losing around Rs 75-90 crores every day. This fiscal year, the industry–it’s predicted by analytics company Crisil–will lose Rs 25,000 (airlines are the biggest loser with Rs 17,000 crores; airport operators will see a downfall of Rs 5,000 crores; and airport retailers might suffer a loss of Rs 1,700 crores).
As I wrote in a blog post last month, travel hasn’t stopped completely. Airlines globally are still operating rescue operations and freight flights. But with borders around the world closed, you can’t simply book a flight and hop on. For those who are stranded in other countries, the government has started ‘Mission Vande Bharat’. Repatriation flights and ships from India have started this week and it will be the biggest evacuation the country has ever undertaken.
What Are Repatriation Flights?
Indian nationals who are stranded abroad need to be evacuated. These flights and ships will bring back people who have lost their jobs, who are facing deportation and who don’t have visas to stay in those countries anymore. Context: When you lose a job in the US on an H1B visa, you have two months to find another job. When that doesn’t happen, you become an illegal immigrant. And then there’s the plight of immigrant workers in low-profile jobs. About 8-10 million Indians work in the Gulf region as drivers, restaurant staff, daily wage workers, and domestic workers. Out of jobs now, they are living in terrible conditions, without medical or financial support and they want to be home. And then there are people who want to come back for other reasons (students and travellers stuck somewhere and people who have lost a family member).
India has made a plan to rescue its citizens from other countries who are in distress. Air India and Air India Express as well as ships will be sent out to bring them back safely.
There are extra precautions that the country is taking while flying these repatriation flights. Crew in hazmat suits, social distancing on planes, thermal screening before on-boarding, hygiene and sanitation by crew and passengers and 14-day quarantine for all passengers are part of the protocol.
How Many People Are Planned To Be Evacuated?
According to official figures, the Civil Aviation Ministry is going to evacuate 1,90,000 people from 12 countries, including UAE, Singapore, the UK and the US. From May 5-13, there will be 64 flights to bring back 14,800 citizens. If you’ve seen Akshay Kumar’s movie Airlift, you know that Air India has experience in a rescue mission on a similar scale (they brought back over one lakh people from Kuwait after Iraq invaded the country in 1990, but this mission is more complicated because of the risks of the virus).
Can You Use These Repatriation Flights To Get Out Of India?
Yes, Indians and foreign nationals who are stranded in India and want to travel to another country where they live permanently or work can also use these flights. There are conditions of course: the destination should allow them in; they should have citizenship, a visa for a year or a Green or OCI card; they should be asymptomatic.
Do Passengers Have To Pay For These Repatriation Flights?
Yes, if you’re coming to India or going to the country where these rescue flights are operating, you will have to pay for your ticket. Air India runs on government subsidies but with the aviation sector performing as poorly as it is, it can’t afford the operation pro bono. The cost of a ticket from London to Delhi is Rs 50,000; from Dubai, the ticket is for Rs 15,000; and from the US, it will cost up to Rs 1,00,000. The cost is also sky-rocketing because of the empty flights that will go from India.
In addition, passengers also have to pay for their 14-day quarantine facilities, an undertaking they will do before they’re allowed to board.
How Can You Book A Repatriation Flight?
Well, these are not scheduled flights, so you may have to do a little extra than just book online and pay. If you’re stuck abroad, register with the Indian consulates and embassies and ascertain why you need to come back. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Military affairs will then schedule flights and naval ships. The database of flights and travellers will be shared by the state or union territory. For those in India who want to go back, they need to reach out to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, or go to Air India website to check their eligibility and book.
The priority will be given to the most serious cases: migrants who have lost their jobs, people who are facing deportation, pregnant women and elderly and those with medical emergencies, and those who have lost a member of their family in India.
You can read the full directive by the Ministry of Home Affairs here. The full schedule is available here.
Featured Image: Flickr