Sharjah: As Air India flight IX184 from Sharjah touched down at Lucknow’s Chaudhary Charan Singh Airport at 8.50pm on Saturday evening, the passengers heaved a sigh of relief.
‘At last, I am going home,’ thought Smita Kumari. Like one of the other 180-odd Indians onboard, she had been stranded in the UAE due to COVID-19 flight restrictions and was now happy to return.
But her joy was short-lived.
Six-month pregnant Kumari wasn’t going home any time soon. No one was. After waiting at the airport for four hours - that’s almost the duration of their flight - all passengers were bundled away into buses which took another hour to move.
Finally, at 2.30am on Sunday, they were taken to various hotels where they will spend the next two weeks in mandatory quarantine.
And since some of these hotels have no elevators, the weary travellers, including the sick and the elderly, had to lug their luggage up several flights of stairs.
Each passenger will be have to pay for their stay based on the category of the hotel. Prices range from Rs1,000 to Rs2,500 (Dh50-Dh120) per night.
“We are living a nightmare. If I had known what I would go through I would have stayed back,” said 65-year-old Asim Ahmad, as he recounted his ordeal over the phone.
“The plane reached on time but they didn’t allow us to get off the aircraft for nearly an hour. When they did, we wished they hadn’t as we were made to sit on the tarmac for another hour and a half. The place is infested with mosquitoes and we had a hard time fighting them off. We pleaded for water but our requests fell on deaf ears. We were treated like pariahs,” said Ahmad who’s quarantined at Hotel Skyler Inn in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow.
Another passenger, M.K. said there was a stark contrast between arrangements at Sharjah and Lucknow airports.
“All passengers underwent onsite rapid COVID tests at Sharjah International Airport yet we had a smooth sailing. But in Lucknow, we had to wait endlessly even for temperature screening. There was a cancer patient among us. He requested authorities to let him remain in self-quarantine at home but they refused to listen or reason. There were several migrant workers who had lost their jobs and were returning home empty-handed. How will they fork out thousands of rupees towards quarantine expenses,” he wondered.
Passengers said their passports were seized by the hotel management the moment they checked in. “They didn’t give us any receipt. Who will I hold responsible if its lost or misused,” said a woman. Some also complained about the food. “We got aloo-puri at 3am and then again for lunch. I am told the menu will be pretty much the same for the next 14 days,” said one of them.
Air India flight IX184 is the first reaching Lucknow with Indians stuck abroad.
Lucknow District Magistrate Abhishek Prakash told news agency PTI that all passengers have been placed under paid quarantine. Any found symptomatic will be admitted to a government hospital in Sarojininagar area of Lucknow, said Prakash.
Air India will operate 64 flights until May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded overseas, under India’s repatriation plan.
The evacuation flights will land at 14 airports across India including Delhi (10 flights), Hyderabad and Kochi nine each, Kozhikode (four), Trivandrum (one), Kannur (one), Chennai (nine), Trichy (one), Ahmadabad (five), Mumbai (four), Srinagar (three), Bengaluru (four), Lucknow (one) and Amritsar (one).
Kerala tops the list of state-wise break-up of repatriation requests with 25,246, followed by 6,617 from Tamil Nadu and 4,341 from Maharashtra. A total of 3,715 people from Uttar Pradesh requested for evacuation, 3,320 from Rajasthan, 2,796 from Telangana and, 2,786 from Karnataka, sources said.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of passengers.