Indians queuing up in front of AIE office in Sharjah. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Hundreds of Indians in the UAE, especially stranded workers, thronged the offices of Air India Express (AIE) on Monday morning to buy tickets for repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM).

However, most of their desperate attempts to get a flight ticket home were unsuccessful as tickets were sold out for most of the flights within two hours after the Indian missions allowed direct selling of VBM tickets via the website and offices of the airline from 7pm on Sunday.

Though the airline officials tried to control the entry of applicants for VBM flights due to COVID-19 restrictions, police had to ultimately help with crowd control in Dubai and Sharjah.

“People had queued up even before the offices opened. As news spread like wildfire, more and more people, especially workers, started coming in, even though we didn’t have tickets to offer them. It is a very pathetic situation,” said one of the sources.

Most of the workers, who queued up in scorching heat, were from the Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, which had lesser number of repatriation flights.

Tickets sold out

The Indian Consulate in Dubai confirmed to Gulf News that most of the flights listed for direct ticketing for travel from July 3 to 14 were sold out within two hours after sale was opened on Sunday. “Out of 41 flights, 27 are to Kerala. Since a lot of people have already travelled to Kerala on VBM flights and chartered flights, some of these flights still have seats. Tickets to all other destinations were sold out in two hours,” said Consul Pankaj Bodhke, who is coordinating the VBM flights.

Indian expats queue outside Air India Express offices. Supplied

Vipul, the Consul General of India in Dubai, said of the 177 seats per flight (after keeping some seats aside for isolation), the airline is allowed to sell 132 (75 per cent) to VBM applicants who are already registered with the missions. The remaining 45 seats (25 per cent) are reserved for those with emergencies, to be routed through the missions.

Asked how the mission was verifying if those booking tickets were the ones who had already registered, Vipul said: “We are ensuring that they are registered. The airline can cross-check with the missions in case there is any suspicion.”

However, another source said some travel agents had managed to book tickets on VBM flights and were re-selling them to VBM applicants at higher rates.

“I got a call saying an Abu Dhabi travel agent was selling [VBM] tickets at higher prices,” he said without providing details of the agency.

Mahtab Husain, a storekeeper form Lucknow, told Gulf News he was desperate to fly home as he had lost his job four months back and his wife had fallen ill with kidney stone.

“I have been waiting for a call from the consulate for the ticket. I came here [at AIE Sharjah office] around 7am. But there were already many people who had come much earlier than me. Some said they had come around 5am.”

He said his hopes to get a ticket were shattered after the airline’s ticketing officials informed the crowd that they did not have tickets to Lucknow. They said only those who wanted to go to Kerala could remain in the queue.

He said he then sent his brother Ikrar to the Dubai office of the airline. “There was an even bigger queue there. Some people there said they would go back to Sharjah due to the heavy rush in Dubai.”