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Hundreds of passengers left in lurch as Air India postpones repatriation flights to and from Australia

Air India has announced its next phase of repatriation flights between India and Australia. Source: Twitter/ Air India

Hundreds of passengers anxious to return home have been left in the lurch after Air India rescheduled most of its special flights landing in and departing from Sydney and Melbourne.

Rescheduling was on the cards for all flights slated to land in Melbourne after the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday announced that the state will not be accepting any international flights for the next two weeks as a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 infections.

“Out of a complete abundance of caution, I made a request to the prime minister to have flights that would have arrived here over the next two weeks be sent to other capital cities. I have thanked the premiers of the states where it's logical these flights will go principally NSW and Queensland for them playing that role,” said Mr Andrews.


Highlights:

  • Air India postpones incoming and outgoing repatriation flights 
  • Victoria has diverted all international flights for the next two weeks starting from July 1
  • Hundreds of passengers awaiting repatriation to and from Australia left in the lurch by last-minute changes

When asked where those flights would land, the state government said in a statement to SBS Punjabi that “the state has no role in redirecting the flights.”

In line with the Victoria government's decision, the Australian High Commission wrote on Twitter that they have been advised that all flights from New Delhi landing in Melbourne as well as Sydney between July 4 and July 13 as part of the Indian government's Vande Bharat Mission have been postponed.

In a separate email to passengers booked on these six flights, most of whom are Australian citizens and residents, the High Commission wrote that along with Victoria, NSW government has also advised that they can no longer accept some flights due to “quarantine pressures.” 

Repat flights
A snapshot of Australian High Commission's email to the passengers.
Supplied

SBS Punjabi has reached out to the NSW government for comment.

'It's a total mayhem'

Caught out by the sudden change in the schedule, business consultant Saurabh Jolly who was due to return to his life in Melbourne along with his family on 4 July said the entire process right from the booking has been nothing short of an ordeal.

“I have waited to book these flights for the past three months. And when I finally managed to book the tickets, they have altered the schedule at least thrice and this time just two days ahead of the scheduled departure. Air India has now informed us that our flight would now depart for Melbourne on July 15, that too is subject to change,” he said.

repat
Saurabh Jolly with his family.
Supplied

The 38-year-old said Victoria cannot abandon us during these hard times.

“We are Australiana and Victoria needs to let us in. We are ready to comply with all quarantine arrangements so then where is the problem? What’s more upsetting is that there is no guarantee if the flight would depart on July 15th,” said Mr Jolly.

Flights scheduled to land in Sydney have also been postponed:

While flights scheduled to land in Victoria were expected to be rescheduled, what caught passengers by surprise was that flights due to touch down in Sydney were also postponed.

Charchika Shukla who was due to travel on the New Delhi to Sydney flight on July 5 along with her three-year-old son said the governments of both the countries should be made aware of the plight of the passengers stranded and separated from their loved ones.

“I am stranded in Pune waiting to be reunited with my family. It was nothing short of a lottery to get a ticket on one of these flights and now we have to grapple with uncertainty on top of everything,” she said.

Repatriation flight
Charchika Shukla with her son (L); a snapshot of her flight ticket (R).
Supplied

The 35-year-old said the last-minute rescheduling meant she also had to cancel her domestic flight to Delhi and her subsequent accommodation arrangements.

“The plan was to fly down to Delhi a day before the scheduled departure and stay the night there. But now I had to cancel both my flight and hotel stay. Authorities must keep in mind that further last-minute changes could result in many passengers stranded outside Delhi missing these flights that they have already paid for,” she said.

Impact on outgoing flights:

The change in the schedule of incoming flights has also impacted outgoing flights that were scheduled to operate between July 5 and July 14, as part of phase three of evacuation from Australia.

Work visa holder Payal Padmanabhan who was booked on the Sydney to Hyderabad flight on July 6 said the passengers were paying the brunt of “miscommunication between different Indian government agencies.”

“While the Indian High Commission has tweeted that all flights on and after July 5 have been postponed, Air India still has not updated its schedule, adding to the confusion,” said the 26-year-old.

Repatriation flight
Payal Padmanabhan (L); a snapshot of her flight ticket (R).
Supplied

“There are quite a few passengers who are travelling to Sydney to catch these flights from different states. We have the tickets, but the date of our departure has still not been fully confirmed. We are already reeling under financial pressures owing to the pandemic, please don’t aggravate our problems,” she added.

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