Ajay family
Family of Gopika Ajay (second from left) before departing from Ras Al Khaimah to Kozhikode on Tuesday night

Dubai: Hundreds of Indian expatriates in UAE have taken chartered flights while many others have also flown from Oman to beat the rush and cut costs ahead of Eid Al Adha and summer holidays.

Booking seats on direct flights from the UAE chartered by travel agents and flying on scheduled flights from Muscat have proven to be cost-effective and also easier in terms of seat  availability for many Indians flying home, especially those travelling to the South Indian state of Kerala.

The family of Sharjah resident Bijumon Janardhanan flew on one such flight chartered by Al Hind Travels on July 3. “It was a flight from Sharjah to Thiruvananthapuram,” Janardhanan told Gulf News over phone from his hometown in Kollam district of Kerala. “We are five members, including our maid. It would have cost us Dh11,000 to fly on a scheduled flight as a single round-trip ticket was priced at Dh2,200. On this chartered flight, we had to pay only Dh1,250 per head and we saved around Dh4,750,” said Janardhanan, who works with a firefighting company in Dubai.

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Apart from the high airfare, seats were also limited on scheduled flights, he said. “It was also difficult to book five tickets on the same flight ahead of the Eid and summer rush. We could have only taken connecting flights via Mumbai. We are glad we got this opportunity to fly early on cheaper tickets,” he added.

Flying after four years

Ahead of another flight organised by Equator Travels under the ECH Group from Ras Al Khaimah to Kozhikode on Tuesday night, passenger Gopika Ajay said she was flying with four of her family members. “I haven’t been home for four years and I badly wanted to fly this summer. When we tried to book tickets last month, the airfares were too high,” said the Khor Fakkan resident.

She said the family was concerned about shelling out Dh1,500 to Dh2000 per passenger. “My husband got stuck back home during the COVID-19 lockdown. He finally managed to fly back on a chartered flight arranged by ECH. So, when we got to know their company was organising yet another flight from UAE, we decided to take it.”

Long route, more savings

Working as a school administrator in Khor Fakkan, she said it was her first time flying out of Ras Al Khaimah. “Usually, we fly from Dubai or Sharjah to Thiruvananthapuram or Kochi. Flying to Kozhikode means we have to travel by road for another 300km. But, we felt even that was better than taking a connecting flight from Mumbai, where we would have had to wait for some ten hours at the airport!”

Iqbal Marconi, the CEO of ECH, said the company had decided to support expat community members reeling under skyrocketing airfares. “We were the first to organise a chartered flight to bring back Indian expats stuck back home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Now, we have chosen to offer tickets at just Dh1,050 as several families are bearing the brunt of high UAE-India airfares ahead of Eid holidays. Keralite families who were looking to book tickets to celebrate Eid at home, after a two-year gap due to COVID-19, have been hit hard by the ticket prices. This is our first flight. We will try to organise more flights for this summer.”

Ajman family
Family of Ajman resident Mohammed Ali Saheer with his friend's family at Muscat International Airport

‘Nominal profit’

Arun Radhakrishnan, the operations manager at Al Hind Travels, said the company had chartered repatriation flights with community organisations such as Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, in 2020. “Because of the high ticket prices this season, we decided to charter flights again. The chartered plane comes without passengers from India. Even then, we made only a nominal profit while chartering four flights so far and we had to bear the surcharge etc”

While the first chartered flight took off from Sharjah for Thiruvananthapuram on July 3, the second will be a flight from Ras Al Khaimah to Kozhikode on July 7, he said. “We have two flights operating from Sharjah to Kozhikode on July 8. All flights are fully booked already. We are trying to get additional slots,” Radhakrishnan added.

Flying from Muscat

Mohammedali Saheer, a UAE resident, managed to save some money by opting for a flight from Muscat to Kerala. The Ajman resident told Gulf News that his family drove for 480km, all the way from Ajman to Muscat, to ensure a cheap flight for his children, who travelled with his friend’s family on July 4. “Kids have holidays and we wanted to send them home for Eid Al Adha. Both my wife and I can’t fly now due to work commitments. So, we thought of sending the children home with my friend’s family.”

Saheer said most of the flights were already fully booked and the remaining ones were exorbitantly priced. When his friends realised that they could save a lot of money by taking a flight from Oman to India, they decided to drive down to Muscat. “The cheapest ticket on scheduled flights was Dh1,500. Another chartered flight on the same day was offering tickets for Dh1,400.” 

Noushad Salah, sales manager at Al Saadah Travels in Sharjah, said hundreds of Indian expatriates in UAE had chosen the Oman route to fly home this summer.

Chartered flight
Passengers on board a Sharjah-Thiruvananthapuram flight chartered on July 3 Image Credit:

Bus/flight to airport

“Several families haven’t flown home for at least two years now due to COVID-19. Many such families are taking this route. Oman buses from UAE are now dropping passengers at Muscat airport for an extra cost of just 2 Omani riyal. When we put out a video on social media, explaining how expats can fly for less than Dh900 before Eid, it received around 65,000 views. Now, we are also trying to arrange a package, including Oman visa and bus ticket.”

Meanwhile, Radhakrishnan said many Indians have also taken flights from Abu Dhabi to Muscat to catch their onward flights home from Muscat. “Some people are taking e-visas to Oman and flying down here on cheaper tickets,” he said.