Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Repatriation flights: Pakistanis in Dubai struggle to book tickets as airlines await permission to fly

Travellers without consular approval face hurdles to book seats, while the government in Islamabad is yet to give carriers permission to fly

Nearly 150 Pakistanis queued outside the Dnata building in Deira on June 21 to purchase flight tickets. Reem Mohammed / The National     
Nearly 150 Pakistanis queued outside the Dnata building in Deira on June 21 to purchase flight tickets. Reem Mohammed / The National     

Mohammad Akhtar lost his teenage son in a tragic car accident in Pakistan on Saturday, but is unlikely to make it to the funeral.

The 48-year-old must wait for Pakistan's government to allow airlines to begin regular flights to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

He was among the many affected by turmoil in the global aviation industry, and among tens of thousands of Pakistanis in the UAE waiting to return home.

“My son died and I can’t even go back to be with my family,” Mr Akhtar, 48, told The National.

“I have tried everything I could to get tickets, but it seems impossible. I went to the consulate, I’ve been waiting in the lines at Dnata and I’ve tried to book online – nothing works.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan's government last week said international flights would resume at 25 per cent capacity from June 20.

On Saturday, Pakistan International Airlines said it would schedule 100 flights to UAE and Saudi to bring residents, many of which had lost their jobs, back home. But permission to fly had not been given as of Sunday night.

Earlier on Sunday, Pakistanis queued outside the Deira offices of ticket firm Dnata to secure a book a seat on the first flights. But, in a further frustration, they were not allowed to enter without written permission from the Pakistan consulate.

Dilnaras Khan, 55, who came to Dubai earlier this year as a jobseeker on a tourist visa, was among them. She found work as a maid with a family but was let go by her employer during the outbreak.

“I have no money and I’m all alone over here. I came for work so I could send money back home to my children,” she said.

“I have diabetes and don’t have any money for medicines. I’m desperate for tickets and really need someone to help me so I can go home.”

To date, Pakistan has repatriated about 20,000 of the 80,000 citizens who applied to return home from UAE.

The latest operation seeks to take another 15,000 home from the Emirates and about 10,000 from Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Akhtar is one of thousands of Pakistanis in the UAE waiting to return home. Reem Mohammed / The National   
Mohammed Akhtar is one of thousands of Pakistanis in the UAE waiting to return home. Reem Mohammed / The National

Ahmed Amjad Ali, Pakistan's consul general in Dubai, said the consulate will continue the approval process for citizens until June 27 and only those with go-ahead from the consulate should visit the Dnata office.

“The consulate has operated 105 flights until today, which has helped repatriate 22,000 Pakistanis on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights. Until 27, the consulate will continue operating flights and 20 to 22 flights have already been scheduled,” he said in a video on the consulate’s Twitter account.

He said that PIA has increased the flight fares for flights departing from Dubai.

To Punjab and Peshawar, the tickets now cost Dh1,470 for economy and Dh2,200 for business class.

For Karachi, the fares are Dh1,270 and business class is Dh1,900.

Previously, economy flights on PIA ranged from Dh1,000 to Dh1,100.

He said those who wish to use airlines besides PIA can book through the official websites or through travel agents.

However, airlines are still waiting for approval from Pakistan authorities to resume international flight operations.

Adnan Kashif said he was low on money and wants to get home as soon as possible.

He said he is in “constant pain” because of kidney stones and wants to return home for treatment.

“I can’t afford many things here. I came here for work but it did not work out. I want to go back,” said Mr Kashif.

Dilnaras Khan lost her job as a housemaid and wants to return to her home country. Reem Mohammed / The National   
Dilnaras Khan lost her job as a maid and wants to return home. Reem Mohammed / The National

Volunteers gave water and snacks to those waiting outside the travel office in the heat on Sunday.

A nearby grocery store clerk distributed Dh1,000 worth of goods to people waiting outside.

“We’ve been giving them water, juice and some snacks because they wait outside for hours in this heat. It’s hard to watch, so we help with what we can,” said Abdul Basit, the store clerk.

The Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority said on Friday that airlines will receive permission for based on the local restrictions in place.

“The permission for international flight operations shall be subject to applicable restrictions and limitations as decided by the competent authority from time to time in light of the current Covid-19 scenario and implementation of health protocols,” the authority tweeted.

Airlines are still waiting for approval from Pakistani authorities to start international flights operations. Reem Mohammed / The National 
Airlines are still waiting for approval from Pakistani authorities to start international flights operations. Reem Mohammed / The National 

Returning travellers face two weeks in quarantine to ensure they are free of the virus.

Dr Moeed Yusuf, national security adviser to Imran Khan, urged the public not to “stigmatise” citizens about returning home and “bringing the virus with them”.

He said three per cent of the virus spread was caused by passengers arriving into the country and 96 per cent was locally transmitted.

Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms will receive a test at the airport and those without will undergo thermal screening.

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Coronavirus in the UAE - in pictures

Updated: June 22, 2020 12:25 PM

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