Stock - India airport
If it were only the ticket costs, it would still have been bearable. But passengers from India are suddenly getting hit with sudden rate surge on Rapid PCR testing at airports. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Passengers from India to the UAE keep getting hit with higher costs – apart from tickets, fees on Rapid PCR tests done at airports in India. It adds to the already high ticket rates on the sector, with the most popular destinations charging well over Dh2,000 one-way.

The Rapid PCR test, a mandatory requirement for those traveling to UAE, shows the results in one to two hours and reduces the risk of onboard transmission. Some of India’s largest airports are charging over Rs3,000 for a single test and that has irked travelers.

“The loophole with airport screening and testing is that there is no government-defined regulation,” said Mark D. Martin, founder and CEO of Martin Consulting, an aviation safety consultancy.

The cost is much higher in airports run by private companies. A Rapid PCR test at Delhi airport costs around Rs3,500 now – this is after a 10 per cent reduction. Meanwhile, Kozhikode airport, run by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), recently slashed its rate to Rs1,580 rupees from Rs2,400 rupees.

“The Ministry of Health or the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has not defined any rates for such services to be rendered and any pricing is arbitrary,” said Martin. “As a result of the pandemic, travellers are seen struggling with expenses and for an expatriate worker who does menial labor jobs in Dubai or the Middle East, the financial burden increases multifold.”

Airports in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad did not immediately respond to a Gulf News query regarding the high testing costs. Mumbai International Airport, responding to a customer query on Twitter, said that RT-PCR pricing in some states was governed by state authorities. “However, Rapid PCR testing prices vary depending upon the kit used.”

A spokesperson for Bengaluru Airport, where rapid PCR tests cost between Rs1,200 to Rs3,000 rupees, said the prices were "as per government of Karnataka guidelines".

Also read

Omicron effect

Although tourists and expats traveling to the UAE have been suffering the high costs for months, the issue really got attention once India tightened travel restrictions in the wake of the Omicron restrictions. Passengers from ‘at-risk’ countries - which includes UK, Brazil, South African, Botswana, China and Israel - are now required to undergo an RT-PCR test on arrival in India, and have to wait for the test results in the airport.

Omicron, first reported in South Africa, has been found in 57 countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) expects the number to continue growing.

PCR costs add up to a ticket

An Indian family of three recently travelled to UAE from Delhi to visit their relatives and were shocked to learn the amount at the airport. “In the end, the price we paid for the three of us would have bought us an additional ticket,” said the father.

Some have taken to social media to complain about the high prices. “Please tell me, why (do) always citizens bear the brunt of policies? Previously, I paid Rs600 for PCR, (and) now due to new regulations, I am paying Rs4,000,” said a user on Twitter. “This is pure loot and extortion in the name of regulations.

“Now that everyone is going for Rapid PCR due to new Omicron regulations, it is time to review and revise charges also.”

At the same time, some travelers seem to be impressed by the airports’ handling of the situation. When the second wave struck earlier this year, passengers were stranded across Indian airports amid flight suspensions.

Talking about his experience at Delhi Airport, a passenger on Twitter said: “PCR report came in 70 minutes, instead of 90 minutes - process was super smooth (as well as) very organized and hassle free.”

While high testing costs are an issue, several passengers are making travel plans even without knowing the existing COVID-19 protocol. In a circular released on Sunday, Air India informed travel agents in the UAE to update passenger information and inform travellers about PCR testing requirements at airports in India.

“It has been observed that UAE-India-UAE and India-UAE tickets issued locally by travel agents do not have India contact numbers of passengers for their inward journey,” said the airline in a circular. “We have also been informed by our airport offices in India that most passengers are not aware of the RT-PCR requirements (at Indian airports).”

Impact on travel
PCR testing is a “huge disincentive” for people who want to travel, according to Willie Walsh, Director-General of International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“When we did a route review of this dealing with 16 countries, the cost ranged from zero in France to $278 in Tokyo for the same test and there's clear evidence that they're (consumers) being ripped off here,” said Walsh, during a media briefing last week.

“If these testing requirements are to remain in place, it needs to be regulated and competition authorities should have already addressed this and used their powers to protect consumers who are being forced to undertake expensive tests, poor quality of service, and in some cases not even getting the test that they have paid for.”