DUBAI: The two-month amnesty has brought an unexpected windfall to the airline industry.
Airlines could rake in up to Dh40 million in ticket sales as thousands of illegal residents fly out of the UAE between December and February 4 when the amnesty ends.
“It is big business for airlines as it’s peak season and the fares are high,” said the regional manager of a leading Dubai-based travel agency. He said a one-way ticket to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Nepal will cost an average of Dh600 during these months. The majority of the UAE’s unskilled workers come from these countries.
According to Indian embassy estimates, around 40,000 Indian expatriates will take advantage of the opportunity to go home or regularise their status without incurring fines.
Embassy estimates put the number of illegal Pakistanis here at 20,000. Likewise there may be 35,000 illegal Bangladeshis. Add another 10,000 expatriates each from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Indonesia and it could add up to a staggering 135,000 illegal residents.
“Even if half of these people book a one-way ticket to their home countries, it would mean around Dh40 million in the airlines’ kitty,” said another travel agent.
Yet another travel agent, who requested anonymity, said ticket fares will go up by 20 to 30 per cent in January and occupancy rates will be high. “There could be a 30 per cent increase in business because of the amnesty.”
Budget airlines like Air Arabia, Air India Express, flydubai and Indigo are likely to see a massive rush in the coming days. “We do not have special fares for the amnesty, but we expect a surge,” said an Air Arabia staff.
The low-cost airline operates daily flights to cities in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as does flydubai, Indigo and Air India Express.
Though conventional airlines like Emirates, Air India, Qatar Airways, Sri Lankan Airways and Gulf Air, among many others, have daily flights to the South Asian countries, their fares are comparatively higher.
But the national carriers of India and Pakistan insist they are not focused on revenues. “We are not looking at revenue generation. It is a social obligation to help the destitute people go back, and we are closely working with the embassy and social organisations on that,” said C.H. Rambabu, Air India’s country manager in the UAE.
He said Air India will announce special amnesty fares by the first week of January and may operate special flights with its budget arm Air India Express if needed.
Ali Tahir Qasim, regional manager for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said they have waived fees for changes in bookings made by amnesty passengers. “We are here to facilitate hassle-free travel for amnesty-seekers.”
PIA operates over 50 weekly flights to many cities in Pakistan.
For many illegal residents, finding ticket money is a problem.
“I used to work as a part-time maid. But I have been jobless for almost six months now because of health issues. “I am hoping that someone will help me because I don’t have Dh750 for a ticket to Calicut,” said Fathima Kochuveettil, from Kerala.
Indian amnesty-seekers also have to pay a Dh69 processing fee for an emergency exit certificate and Dh10 for SMS and courier charges.
The Kerala government is giving 1,000 free tickets to expatriates returning on the amnesty. The Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), the welfare arm of the Indian Consulate in Dubai, will also offer free tickets.
“We have funds and we will consider giving free tickets on a case-by-case basis,” K. Kumar, Convenor, ICWC told XPRESS.
Many are pinning their hopes on philanthropists.
“This is a benevolent country and people are kind. I am sure somebody will come forward to help people like us,” said Haneef Hussain, a Pakistani who like many others has yet to apply for the amnesty because he cannot afford an air ticket.