Coronavirus: UK citizens under lockdown in India demand more rescue flights and lower fares

‘It is only possible to book these flights if you are already in the state of departure,’ says Jan Thompson, British high commissioner

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 05 April 2020 19:06
Comments
First repatriation flights from India amid coronavirus lockdown

British citizens stranded in India by the coronavirus lockdown must wait several more days for the first repatriation flights to the UK – which will initially serve only three locations across the vast country.

Scheduled flights to, from and within India have been suspended until 15 April, and tight restrictions are in place for domestic travel.

The British high commission in Delhi has announced “a first round of charter flights” from India.

Seven India UK repatriation flights have been arranged, starting with a flight on Wednesday 8 April from Goa to London Stansted. There will be additional departures from India’s leading resort location on the following Friday and Sunday. The one-way fare is £681.

Flights will also take off from Delhi and Mumbai, both to London Heathrow, on Thursday and Saturday. The fare is £581 from Delhi, £600 from Mumbai.

The British high commissioner, Jan Thompson, said in a video statement: “Due to the current travel restrictions in India, it is only possible to book these flights if you are already in the state of departure.

“But please do not worry if you are not. Further information will follow on flights running from other locations in India.”

The repatriation flights are being organised as part of a £75m Foreign Office airlift announced by Dominic Raab. They are open only to British nationals, their spouses or partners and their children.

Passengers must register online through a commercial events company, CTM, but are warned: “Registration does not guarantee a place on a flight. Those who are not allocated a place on a flight will be put on a waitlist for the next available set of flights.”

Travellers hoping to book are warned: “Anyone found not eligible to fly will be denied boarding and we reserve the right to deduct an administration fee before offering any refund.”

Prospective passengers must declare whether they are displaying any of the symptoms of coronavirus, including fever, dry cough or shortness of breath, and will not be allowed to travel if they are.

Passengers allowed to travel will probably be picked up from their current location, though some may be asked to meet at a muster point.

Anyone whose visa has expired must apply online for an extension before they are allowed to leave India.

The announcement of the flights prompted a furious response from British nationals elsewhere in India.

Stray dogs gather outside the deserted Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport during lockdown (AFP/Getty)

“Gol mol” tweeted: “Most British Asians are in Punjab, you claim you are ‘looking’ to see where large numbers are? STOP looking, you have all our details, NOW pull your finger out.”

Some British travellers complained the fare was too high. In normal times, one-way fares under £300 are widely available from Delhi and Mumbai to the UK.

Ashok Bharakda tweeted: “This is daylight robbery. What happened to the £75m allocated by Raab?”

So far the main focus for UK repatriation flights has been on Peru. British Airways has flown four Boeing 777s from Lima to London. Passengers on these flights were asked to pay £250 on their return, a price of 4p per mile.

In contrast, the rate per mile from Goa to Stansted is 14p.

There are also concerns about whether there will be any “social distancing” on board the aircraft. Around 2,000 passengers could be brought back on the seven flights, but this number would be sharply reduced if travellers are allocated seats with empty spaces between them.

The high commission said in a statement: “We are looking to arrange flights from other locations in India, where we know there are large numbers of British nationals.

“We will run flights based on need and circumstances.”

Several other countries have already operated repatriation flights from India to rescue their citizens, with Air France running multiple departures from Delhi to Paris. Some countries are believed to have collected their citizens from a wider area in coaches.

Other flights are being operated on behalf of the Foreign Office from Bolivia, Ecuador and the Philippines.

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