Watch: Indians throng Air India Express offices in UAE for VBM repatriation tickets that were already sold out
Dubai: Hundreds of Indians in the UAE, especially stranded workers, thronged the offices of Air India Express on Monday morning to buy tickets of repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM).
However, most of their desperate attempts to get a flight ticket home were dashed as tickets were sold out for most of the flights within two hours after the Indian missions allowed direct selling of VBM tickets via the website and offices of the airline from 7pm on Sunday.
Though the airline officials tried to control the entry of the VBM applicants due to COVID-19 restrictions, police had to help with crowd control in Dubai and Sharjah.
“People had queued up before the offices were open. As the news is spreading like wildfire, more and more people, especially workers started coming in even though we don’t have tickets to offer them. It is a very pathetic situation,” said one of the sources.
Most of the workers, who queued up in the scorching heat, are from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, the states which had less number of repatriation flights.
Tickets sold out
The Indian Consulate in Dubai confirmed to Gulf News that most of the flights listed for direct selling of tickets from July 3 to 14 were sold out in two hours after the sale was opened on Sunday. “Out of 41 flights, 27 are to Kerala. Since a lot of people have already travelled to Kerala on VBM flights and charter flights, some of these flights still have seats. Tickets to all other flights were sold out in two hours,” said consul Pankaj Bodhke, who is coordinating the VBM flights.
Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul said of the 177 tickets per flight (after keeping some seats for isolation), the airline is allowed to sell 132 (75 per cent) to VBM applicants who are already registered with the missions. The remaining 45 seats (25 per cent) are reserved for those with emergency cases that will be routed through the missions.
Asked how the mission is verifying if those booking tickets are those who had already registered, he said: “We are ensuring that they are registered. The airline can cross-check with the missions in case there is any suspicion.”
However, another source said some travel agents had managed to book the tickets and were selling them to VBM applicants for higher rates.
“I got a call saying an Abu Dhabi travel agent is selling the ticket for higher prices,” he said without providing details of the agency.
Mahtab Husain, a storekeeper form Lucknow, told Gulf News he was desperate to fly home as he had lost his job four months back and his wife had fallen ill with kidne stone.
“I have been waiting for a call from the consulate for the ticket. I came here [at AIE Sharjah office] around 7 am. But there were already many people who had come much earlier than me. Some said they had come around 5am.”
He said his hopes to get a ticket were shattered after the airline’s ticketing officials informed the crowd that they don’t have tickets to Lucknow. They said only those who want to Kerala can stay back.
He said he then sent his brother Ikrar to the Dubai office of the airline. “There was an even bigger queue. Some people there said they were coming back to Sharjah due to the huge rush in Dubai.”