A friend and I were due to travel to India this week to experience the Hindu festival of Holi. I booked flights for both of us last month, travelling from Sharjah to Mumbai with Air Arabia, flying out this week (March 10). However, as my friend was visiting from the US, I decided to wait until he arrived last weekend before applying for our holiday visas. As we are both from the US and the Indian Embassy website said it was open from 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, I thought the process would be straightforward and that we would have plenty of time. However, when we visited the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi last Saturday, we were told that our passports needed to be sent for processing and that because of the public holidays this week, the passports would not come back until the following Sunday. This meant we would miss the festival, and, as my friend was due to return to the US on Sunday, we were left with no option but to cancel the flights. What redress do we have?
A week does seem a long time to wait for a holiday visa, which as you say should be relatively straightforward. I have previously heard of Abu Dhabi residents getting their Indian holiday visas back the day after submitting the application form to the embassy. However, several factors seem to have conspired against you in this instance. The first is that on February 19, the Indian Embassy began outsourcing the processing of visas to Empost, a private agency with 13 centres across the UAE. When you clicked on the visa information section of the Indian Embassy's website, it directed you to the new Indian Passport and Visa Services Center (IPAVSC) in Madinat Zayed - and is this, not the Indian Embassy, which has the opening hours you describe.
A spokesman for the Indian Embassy said that unfortunately, because you visited the embassy's visa counter on a Saturday, and the next day was a public holiday, your applications would not be sent to the Madinat Zayed office until the Monday, two days before your flight, and that as Wednesday this week was also a holiday, they would not be returned in time. The website of the IPAVSC says that for UAE residents, visas are processed and issued on the third working day; visas for non-residents, such as your friend "can take up to one week". The Indian Embassy spokesman advised all travellers, regardless of nationality, to allow at least a week for the processing of their visas.
The good news is that Air Arabia has a surprisingly enlightened attitude to flight changes and cancellations; with most airlines, not being being able to obtain a visa in time would mean you would have to sacrifice the cost of the flights. Air Arabia's terms and conditions, however, state that "reservations can be changed up to 24 hours before travel" for a fee of US$14 (Dh50) per passenger. Alternatively, you can cancel the flight and put the money towards a flight to a different destination at a later date. As the Holi festival will be over by the time your visa is ready and your friend will already be on his way back to the United States, this will probably be your best option. A fee of $28 (Dh100) per passenger is applicable, and the credit must be used within one year.
Do you have any travel-related questions? If so, e-mail them to us at email@example.com