Dozens of people who have returned to the UAE on private jets after more than three months in India said the expensive flight was worth it to be reunited with their families.
Desperate to see their loved ones again and resume their jobs in the UAE, Indian citizens have dug deep into their savings to pay for charter flights since regular passenger services have not yet resumed between the two nations.
Mudassir Ali was among 13 travellers who paid about Dh10,500 each to travel from Mumbai to Dubai on Saturday.
People had to be willing to trust each other
“I was dying everyday knowing my wife and daughter had to manage everything alone,” the Dubai resident, 40, said.
“The pandemic has left everyone in the world in shock, people are losing their life, their jobs. It is a scary time and I just wanted to make it back to my family.”
To return, he had to first convince a group of strangers to chip in for the Dh135,000 needed to charter a plane.
It took about a week, many phone calls and detailed co-ordination before people from different corners of India including Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Patna, Mumbai boarded the weekend flight.
“People had to be willing to trust each other and we divided the work of handling the finance, documentation, passport details,” Mr Ali said.
“Many were interested but many also dropped out. We had to get people to believe that this was genuine and our objective was to get back to the UAE.
“By the time we actually got on the flight, each one had become a family member. It was overwhelming, I had tears in my eyes because these people trusted me.”
Private jets must be hired by one person who pays the full fare directly to the aviation company. Travellers split the cost between the group.
Zara Syed, Mr Ali’s wife, said managing their three-year-old daughter alone was a challenge during stay-home restrictions.
“It’s a lot of money but to have him come back to us and his job was important,” she said.
“Until the last minute when everyone got on the plane, we were worried because we were unsure about internal flights in India, travel delays, quarantine rules between states.”
Passengers on private jets are asked to submit copies of their passport, visa, Emirates ID card and a ‘fit to board’ medical certificate.
They must also download the Aarogya Setu and Al Hosn apps, mobile applications launched by the Indian and UAE governments to aid with contact tracing.
Once passengers land in the UAE they must confirm they can quarantine in a separate room with an en suite bathroom and that they do not have elderly relatives at home.
UAE residents stuck overseas must apply for approval to return from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs or the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.
Thousands are part of Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram group that share information about the process to return to the UAE.
Indian and UAE authorities suspended international flights in late March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
About 90,000 people will arrive to India from the UAE by the end of the month on chartered flights and through a government-led Vande Bharat or Salute India mission but there have been no repatriation services in the opposite direction.
Neeti Rodrigues, 44, arrived in Dubai on a similar charter service on Monday night.
“I had tears when we landed,” said Ms Rodrigues, who also paid Dh10,500 for the one-way fare from Mumbai.
“I have told people on both sides not to celebrate until I actually reach home.”
Ms Rodrigues works in the technology sector and has a 11-year-old daughter with an intellectual disability, who was being cared for by her husband and teenage son in Dubai.
She had been stuck in Mumbai since March 19 – the day UAE closed its borders – when she flew to see her terminally mother who died of cancer the next day.
The flight to Dubai was organised by another family stuck in India.
“I could not wait any longer to get back,” she said.
“I knew that the charter ticket cost would be high but I have no choice. It is a heavy price but I didn’t know when the next flight would leave India or whether I could get on the next group.”
Another Dubai resident travelled on a charter flight from New Delhi last week with his wife and young child.
“I needed to return because there was no end in sight,” said the 37-year-old, who preferred not to be named.
He had initially travelled to India for a family emergency.
“I was never prepared for such an extended stay in India. We were very disoriented when we were in India and were equally disoriented to get back here.”
An Empire Aviation Group official confirmed the company had operated 13-seater planes to bring in passengers from India.
“We can only operate when we get approvals from both the UAE and Indian authorities,” she said.
“The approvals and paperwork for passengers depend on each jurisdiction. The passengers must have relevant documents to clear immigration. The regulations for each country are different.”
The Dubai-based company deals with business and leisure travel on small jets and also handles aircraft sales, management, flight planning and ground transportation for charter customers.
“We are not a seat sale company. A customer books the whole aircraft. All relevant paperwork must be in place or we cannot not accept a trip,” the official said.
Scott Glenn, sales director for the group, said charter flights had taken UAE residents and citizens primarily to and from India and GCC countries during the pandemic.
Chartering a flight from India typically costs $6,500 – $9,000 per flying hour, depending on the aircraft type.
He said the group had flown several private jet missions since the start of the pandemic that included emergency medical and repatriation flights to various countries.
Updated: June 29, 2020 10:49 PM