x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Air India Express to reinstate some UAE flights

The airline will reinstate some of its flights between the UAE and Indian cities, almost 10 days after it announced flight cancellations.

Travel agents say 70 flights to the UAE operated this week and the number is expected to increase to 80 by next week.
Travel agents say 70 flights to the UAE operated this week and the number is expected to increase to 80 by next week.

DUBAI // Air India Express, India's low cost national carrier, said it will reinstate some of its flights between the UAE and Indian cities from tomorrow, almost 10 days after it announced flight cancellations.

Air India Express admitted this week it was forced to cancel or reschedule its operations due to the unavailability of aircraft and because it had to divert its aircraft to fly passengers from India to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Haj.

"From September 29, we will be reinstating some of the flights," said Seema Srivastava, Air India's Regional Manager for the Gulf, Middle East and Africa. "We will operate 45 flights a week from Dubai, 12 from Sharjah and 23 from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain."

Without prior notice, the budget airline cancelled eight flights a week from September 17 to the south Indian cities of Trivandrum, Trichy and Mangalore.

"Aircraft availability was a problem. Also some aircraft are operating to Haj and some changes in scheduling were due to that," said Mrs Srivastava, adding that alternate arrangements had been made for passengers.

"We have been making all efforts to ensure passengers are taken care of. All passengers from the UAE have been accommodated on other flights," she said.

Travel agents said 70 flights to the UAE operated this week and the number was expected to increase to 80 by next week.

An Indian advocacy group, which has a UAE chapter in Sharjah, said the flights were being reinstated after it filed a case on Monday against the airline in the Kerala High Court.

"We have filed a case to end frequent flight cancellations and to stop the airline from charging exorbitant fares," said YA Rahim, the Sharjah-based chairman of the centre for non-resident Indians and returnees.

"They are exploiting people with their high fares during the holiday months. We want them to fix a fare all around the year like other modes of transport. They have to make alternative arrangements so passengers are not affected."

Mr Rahim hoped that the court's interim order, expected to be pronounced on Monday, will be in their favour.

Another organisation based in the UAE has appealed to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to intervene and end the unscheduled cancellations made by the struggling carrier, which recently witnessed one of the longest pilot strikes in the country's aviation history.

"It is a cheap, budget airline and is the best mode of travel for low income expatriates from the UAE," said NP Ramachandran, general secretary of the Overseas Indian Cultural Congress, Dubai chapter. "They say the aircraft were diverted for Haj purposes. The Haj is not something that happens suddenly. It can be planned for in advance."

In his letter sent this week, Mr Ramachandran said people were "losing their confidence" in the national carrier.

He said Air Kerala, a new budget airline proposed between the Arabian Gulf states and Kerala, could be their answer for the lack of cheap and reliable travel options.

Plans for Air Kerala were first announced by the Kerala government five years ago to largely cater to the travel needs of the state's immigrants to the six Gulf states. At the two-day Emerging Kerala meeting, held earlier this month in the state, businessmen from the UAE held talks with Indian authorities about reviving plans to launch the airline.

"I hope that the Indian government's requirements for a new airline to have a fleet of at least 20 aircraft and have five consecutive years of domestic operations before flying overseas will be waived off," said Mr Ramachandran. "I hope something will emerge soon."

pkannan@thenational.ae