Dubai: Several Indian and Pakistani expats in the UAE claim that prices of air tickets have shot up in the wake of the huge demand for repatriation, despite alerts issued by various airlines.
One Indian resident said a one-way ticket from Dubai to Mumbai cost him as much as Dh1,500 when it should have come up to just half the amount.
Another traveller, Bharath M, also paid a similar amount for a ticket to Mumbai. He said it was way too high but he had no choice but to pay.
India’s national carrier Air India, which has warned travellers against this trend, said in a tweet on Sunday: “Cases of overcharging by travel agents have been reported. Seats are available for various destinations. If you face overcharging, do email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In a statement to Gulf News, P.G. Prageesh, Chief of Corporate Communications of Air India Express, urged passengers taking repatriation flights to do their due diligence and check the authenticity of the travel agents they deal with.
“We request all passengers to visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we share a lot of real time information for the benefit of our passengers on these platforms. In order to avoid any confusion, we keep updating our website and blog page as well as social media channels with repatriation schedule and fares.”
Punit Shah, general manager of a Dubai-based travel agency, City One Tourism & Travel, said the case is particularly accentuated when the airline does not have seats listed on the global distribution system (GDS) for multiple agents to sell their tickets.
“What happens here is that only a handful of agents tends to handle the ticket sales for destinations of these airlines, thereby they are likely to hike rates according to the demand. It would help if all airlines list their seats under the GDS so there is a broad network of agents selling tickets. The margins can be kept really low in this respect.”
Besides Mumbai, other sectors like New Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai in India are also recording a massive price hike on flights. Tickets from Abu Dhabi to Chennai for example are priced at Dh925 per person, but agents are selling them for Dh1,500, sometimes Dh1,600. Tickets for Sharjah to Kannur are another example and they are priced at Dh850 per person. According to Shah, agents are selling flights tickets to India on VBM flights for an average Dh1,200 to Dh1,600 per person. “Agents are not selling anything below Dh1.200. It is a rip off,” he said.
It is not just the India sector that is seeing price hikes. The Pakistan sector is equally hit.
According to Shah, agents are hiking prices on flights to Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Multan. The listed prices on airlines is between Dh1,000 and Dh1,200 per person. But agents are selling tickets for Dh1,500, and for Dh2,500 in some cases.
Pakistani expat Mahnaz Khan said she paid as much as Dh2,500 to a travel agent for a Dubai-Karachi flight for a blue collar worker she wanted to help. “He was in a desperate situation to go home, I just bought his ticket for this price,” she said.
According to a Dubai-based travel agent, people are coughing up the spiked costs because of their desperation. “There is a huge price difference in what is listed on airline websites and what is being sold by agents. Again, it is the demand and agents are taking advantage of this.”
Travel agents who claim they are toeing the line have called upon relevant authorities to set standard rates, especially with respect to the flights.
“Many people on the repatriation flights have lost their jobs and are in a desperate financial situation. At a time like this, I don’t think it is ethical to add a huge margin on flight rates,” said Shah.
Sheela Thomas, a lawyer by profession and social worker, said she has been helping stranded Indian expats head home.
“After a quick check with some agents, I was shocked to see such exorbitant prices. I personally paid for the flight tickets of some desperate blue collar workers who had to leave the UAE urgently. But this is not practical every time. There has to be a standard rate in place and agents must follow it as a rule.”