Dubai: Desperate to see his ailing mum in Kolkata, Indian businessman Gautam Banka set out to book a ten-seater private jet for $58,800 (Dh216,000) and split the cost with co-travellers.
“I was still short of four passengers when another idea dawned upon me: Why not charter a bigger plane and repatriate more people at much lower fares?“ recalled the Harvard alumni whose mum suffers from last stage of cancer.
“Over the next few days, Banka’s Jumeirah Lakes Tower office, KSE Electricals, started to resemble a travel agency. As word spread, people from India’s eastern region trooped in to book their tickets for the first chartered flight to Kolkata.
An aircraft provided by Indian low-cost carrier Indigo will fly back 170 passengers to the West Bengal capital from Dubai International Airport Terminal 2 around noon on Sunday.
“The trip costs Dh1,050 per person, which is much lower than what is being charged by travel agents,” said Banka who organised the chartered flight for Dh190,000 with the help of friends Tushar Majumdar and Rajiv Nathany, both from Dubai.
“Majumdar handled the bookings, Nathany coordinated with the Indian Mission in the UAE while I looked into the legal aspects and sought approvals from authorities in West Bengal. Thankfully, everything fell in place. My mother is seriously ill and I am glad that I will be by her side tomorrow. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the excellent team work and the support of Vipul, the Indian Consul General in Dubai,” said Banka.
So far, only three flights have reached Kolkata from the UAE as part of the Indian government's Vande Bharat Mission meant to repatriate Indians. These include a flight from Dubai on June 3 and two flights, one each from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, on June 24.
People from West Bengal reckon these are not enough.
“While it is true that most Indian migrants in the UAE are from South India, expats from the states of West Bengal, Tripura, Odhisa, Assam and Jharkhand also constitute a significant number. Kolkata is the nearest international airport for them,” said Majumdar.
“There were 53 flights to Kerala from the UAE under the third phase of the Vande Bharat Mission, but hardly any for people hailing from the eastern region, who are stuck here,” said Saptarshi Dutta from Kolkata whose wife Paulami, daughter Adrita, sister Rina and niece Aratrita will board the chartered flight to Kolkata tomorrow.