x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The return tickets that never were

A travel agent is alleged to have booked one-way flights to Pakistan then duped customers into believing they were valid for return journeys.

Mohammed Ishlaq back at his home in Abu Dhabi after his ordeal in Peshawar.
Mohammed Ishlaq back at his home in Abu Dhabi after his ordeal in Peshawar.

ABU DHABI // Mohammed Ishlaq needed an airline ticket fast. He needed to see his father, who lives in a small village outside Peshawar, and was sick. Mr Ishlaq paid a visit to Evening Star Travel and Tourism to book a flight, and found the Dh1,720 (US$469) he was charged for a return flight fair. It was his first time using Evening Star, something he did because its office was within walking distance of his home.

It was only when he arrived at the Pakistan International Airlines desk at Peshawar International Airport that he realised he had been sold a one-way ticket. "I felt so confused when they said I had no ticket home," said Mr Ishlaq, 44, now back in Abu Dhabi. "I called my cousin and told him to call the agent. He never got through, and I had to sleep in the airport until the next day when my cousin showed up with the money for the new ticket."

The travel agent who sold Mr Ishlaq his ticket has not been seen since June 7, his last day at work after complaints about him began flooding in. It is alleged that in dealing exclusively with other Pakistani nationals, he devised a plan where customers would not realise they had been cheated until arriving at the airport to return to Abu Dhabi. There, like Mr Ishlaq, they would be told they did not, in fact, have a place reserved for the flight.

Atlaf Hussein, one of the partners who owns Evening Star, said last week it had received 17 complaints from customers about the agent in question, all saying he had cheated them by selling them one-way tickets disguised as returns. Evening Star's owners have filed a report about the man - who worked at the agency for three years - with Abu Dhabi Police as well as the ministries of immigration and labour.

When The National presented Mr Ishlaq's "return" ticket to Peshawar to Evening Star agency, the employee on duty confirmed that a one-way PIA ticket had been purchased, but the return portion had been forged; no return ticket had been bought. Abu Dhabi's Shebaya police station received the file about the agent last week and has been working on finding him so that he can be charged. "The agency has his passport so he cannot leave the country. How fast we find him depends on how much information we have.

"In this case, we have a lot of information, but I cannot tell you what information we have," one officer said. Abrahim Yousafai, a customer representative at PIA, said he was not aware fraudulent tickets for the airline had been issued. "We've never come across any complaints from Peshawar, or from here," he said. "People can come to the PIA office in Abu Dhabi or check at offices in Peshawar to make sure their tickets are authentic. We urge people to make complaints directly to us."

Mr Ishlaq's cousin brought him Dh855 for a one-way ticket and an additional Dh361 last-minute booking charge. "I had to buy three tickets, you see?" said Mr Ishlaq, who earns Dh1,000 a month as a watchman. "I can't afford this." After the visit from Mr Ishlaq and The National, Evening Star reimbursed Mr Ishlaq Dh620. Mr Hussein said the agency had reimbursed seven people on Saturday and would continue to reimburse victims of the alleged fraud who came forth.