An analysis: What could be the reason?

By: Sameep Singh Gumtala

June 25, 2020: Thousands of citizens from many countries got stranded in India, amidst India’s ongoing COVID-19 response, due to the suspension of international flights.  It was quoted that almost 40000 Canadians registered with its Consulate. Majority of them were stuck in the State of Punjab. This number did not include permanent residents, work permit holders and other visa types. There are still many looking for flights to get back to their home.  

Recently, many Canadians were scheduled to fly on one of the Air India repatriation flights from New Delhi to Narita Airport in Tokyo, where they would transit and board Air Canada flight to Vancouver. It is reported in media that up to 150 Canadians – including citizens and permanent residents from all ages were denied boarding on the flight. Many of them were able to check in online and allotted seat numbers.

A video that went viral on social media, showed Air India staff saying to Canadian passengers that the list from Embassy did not include their name. However, from the video or reports by passengers, it is not clear that whether they are talking about list to be provided by Japan or Canada Consulate. He is also not showing any such document of eligibility to the passengers.

What may have gone wrong in this matter, causing so much inconvenience to almost 150 passengers, that includes many elderly passengers. The remaining section of this report is not a judgement or blame of the issue to either airline or passengers.

Boarding Denied to Transit via Tokyo

Passengers are heard trying to talk to airport at Japan, Canadian officials etc. As passengers had no idea on how to get the permissions they were asking for, is it Canadian embassy or Japanese consulate. One of the passenger shares in video that Japanese passport holder were allowed to board the flight.

Air India staff was adamant about stopping the Canadians for the flight to Japan even though airline is allowing the Canadians to fly on its direct flights to Toronto, Vancouver and even to London, where passengers have been able to transit by connecting on Air Canada flights to their destinations in Canada.  

So, this raises a question, if flights to other destinations do not need any registration list from Canadian consulate, why they are not allowed on this flight. In the past, Air India even sold the connecting flights via London to Toronto on its website for the Vande Bharat Mission. Many even purchased the tickets separately from Air Canada for the flight from London to Canada.

Air India Flights Eligibility Criteria

Many airlines that are operating repatriation flights from India lists the passenger eligibility rules on their website. This includes many countries where it is operating these flights.  A review of the document provides information that one cannot just buy air india flight ticket to one of the non-Canadian destination and then connect on other airlines transit flights to Canada.

Passenger rules for flight to Japan is also provided in the document. In “Entry of non-citizens” column, it is stated specifically in bold that “Non-Japanese nationals desirous of traveling to Japan to note the following; no one will be allowed to board the plane without clearance from Embassy / Consulate of Japan.”

Taking a loot at the same column for UK regarding Entry of Non-Citizens, it is written that “Arrival and departure flights are allowed and no restriction on passenger movement”. Similarly, for flights to Italy, France and few other European countries, it clearly states if other country passengers will be allowed to transit at the airport. This complete list is available at the link. http://www.airindia.in/images/pdf/Revised-Mauritius-advisory-19th-June-2020.pdf

For the general public, aviation policies, rules and regulations for transit etc. is a complex thing to understand. With lockdown, suspension of flights, ban on entry of citizens from other countries on flights has made it a lot more complex. Passengers are requested to carefully read and understand these guidelines. If they aren’t able to understand, it is better not to risk your money by purchasing tickets for such flights.

All are requested to carefully read all the terms and conditions before purchasing tickets to transit via other countries as rules continue to change based on the pandemic situation. Air India has mentioned in guidelines that work permits, student and other visa holder types should thoroughly read eligibility rules. Also, they added many direct flights to Canada even though due to high demand, all the tickets got sold.  

Purchase of Tickets from Travel Agents

A receipt for the amount of about 4.5 lacs (.45 million) is also posted by someone on social media for purchase of 3 tickets from a travel company. Sale of air india repatriation flights are only on the website or by phone. Air India and the media have been repeatedly posting that tickets can only be purchased online on airline website or by phone.  If any other agents try to sell you a ticket, they are trying to scam them.

Beware of Scammers

Travelers purchasing tickets from them may not be aware of this or they did not care about it. Some of these agents may have simply purchased the tickets from air india website as well and then charged people extra money for the work.

Also, this isn’t uncommon that scammers trying to reach out to people during this time when many are streass due to the crisis. Many are saying that older people do not know how to purchase tickets from website. Also, the website was so slow that it took almost all day for people to complete the booking.

A long wait for Resumption of International Flights

With temperature in Punjab and other parts of India reaching above 40 deg C, we can all hope that India will soon allowing the start of International flights. The truth is that foreigners stranded in the country and Indian citizens stranded abroad also want to return home as soon as possible.  More delays are also adding to their mental distress. In the end, a request to the community members to please carefully read the rules. Many times, I have shared the updates and also posted videos about flights, but most of the time no attention is given to them. We pray that you all return home safely soon.

Sameep Singh Gumtala, is Global Convener of FlyAmritsar Initiative, a public campaign for better flight connectivity with the Holy city of Amritsar. He is a US resident, regularly writes about Punjab, its diaspora and connectivity of Amritsar, Punjab with the World. Email: flyamritsarairport@gmail.com

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