Due to Covid-19 rules, only two to three people were allowed into the office at a given time.
Tickets for special flights to several cities in India were sold out just hours after direct sales began, an Air India officer at the ticketing office told Khaleej Times on Monday. Flights to Lucknow, Delhi, and Hyderabad, which are part of the Vande Bharat Mission’s Phase 4, are now fully booked.
“Only tickets to the Kerala sector are available. But those seats, too, are running out fast,” said the officer.
The Indian Embassy in the UAE announced on Sunday that Indian expats, who have registered with missions, can secure seats on the repatriation flights on a first-come-first-served basis, provided that they fulfil the mandatory conditions to return home.
Bookings were open until July 15, the Air India officer said. “Many bookings were made online. Now, the remaining tickets will be referred to us by the Consulate-General of India.”
Hordes of people gathered outside Air India’s ticketing office in Deira, Dubai, early Monday morning. Hundreds made a beeline on both sides of the office as early as 8.15am, even though it opened only at 9am.
The queue went all the way to Salahuddin Metro station on the right-hand side and City Star Hotel, Deira, on the left. With social distancing rules in place, only two to three people were allowed into the office at a given time.
However, many of them had to return empty-handed. One worker from Lucknow, UP, said: “I got here at 6am hoping I will get tickets to Lucknow. But we were told tickets were sold out even before I reached the start of the line.”
His roommate added, “Charter flights to Lucknow are priced at Dh1,500. It is not something we can afford.”
Several Indian citizens assumed commercial operations had resumed, the AI officer said. “That is what caused the massive rush.”
Dubai Police officers arrived on-site to ensure safety and control the crowds, which dwindled as the day progressed.
A majority of blue-collar workers and a few families from the Indian cities of Kolkata, Lucknow, Hyderabad, and some cities in Tamil Nadu were among those seeking to purchase the tickets. A handful women were also present.
A number of workers told Khaleej Times that they have registered themselves on the missions’ websites after the special repatriation campaign was launched in May. However, they are yet to hear from the Consulate-General of India in Dubai and the Indian Embassy.
Since the launch of the Vande Bharat Mission, charter flights have also been operating to various Indian cities. Workers standing in the queue said they hoped to get seats on the mission as there are ‘very few charter flights’ to destinations of their choice.
One worker Khalid said: “I want to travel to Lucknow. There are no charter flights being organised to my hometown. Moreover, I cannot afford to go on the charter flights because their tickets are priced over Dh1,000. Ticket for Vande Bharat flight is Dh730.”
Another worker said: “I borrowed money to get this special ticket to India. I registered on the consulate’s website, I am yet to receive a call.”