DIASPORA LEFT HARASSED BY TRAVEL CHAOS

Rupanjana Dutta and Shefali Saxena Tuesday 11th January 2022 13:19 EST
 

Amid total chaos of adhering to travel rules, some British Indian travellers are now sitting anxiously on the edge of their seats, while incurring financial losses in ticket cancellations and rescheduling.  The West Bengal government cancelled all direct flights from the UK to Kolkata due to the prevailing Omicron situation. As a consequence of this, many travellers who have been travelling between UK and India and vice-versa with great hope and enthusiasm are now trapped. 

 

'In a much worse situation than others'

 

Chigwell resident Purba Wadedar told Asian Voice, “I got my OCI done in November. I couldn't travel in December, because I had work commitments here. My parents are in their 80s and live on their own in Salt Lake, Kolkata. Their caretaker met with an accident and now not being able to work as regular. I booked my tickets in early November for 15 January. And then as cases started rising in Kolkata. Last week, I had a call from my travel agent who said the direct Air India flight was cancelled.

“My sister and I both live abroad. I am in my 50s and have two daughters. One is 22 and the other is 17. I've been in the UK for 27 years now.

“My dad is almost 88 and my mum is 82. When my father was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017, we rushed there, and he had major surgery. He's somehow managing now. My mum had a stroke. We haven’t been able to see our family for years, I genuinely need to go and see my parents as they are completely alone.

“I know people are stuck in Kolkata and there are people who came here on holidays who are stuck too, but we probably are in a much worse situation than them.”

 

Ramita Ghosh from Wembley told the newsweekly, “My sister is getting married in Kolkata in February. My parents are have not been keeping well for a while. We did not go in October, during Durga puja, considering we had to go for this wedding. The Air India direct flight first got cancelled. So I had to be on the phone for 11-17 hours over 3 days, to reschedule my ticket via Delhi or Mumbai. Every one hour, the call would automatically drop. Then our flight was rescheduled via Delhi, now that has been cancelled too after Kolkata brought in a weekly flight restriction from some cities. 

 

"We are travelling amidst uncertainties and exponential rise in cases, because we are desperate to go and see our elderly parents. I do not even know if I will reach my only sister’s wedding! Everybody is panicked.

 

“While our travel has been restricted, party goers are neither stopped nor discouraged to gather in thousands. There are also absolutely no restrictions for people living in India travelling to holiday destinations like Goa and Udaipur for vacations and weddings! Thousands of people are being allowed to go to pilgrimage in Gangasagar, but we are not allowed to go back home to see our family members. It is a shame."

 

Arijit Datta from Edinburgh paid almost £2000 to travel with family to Kolkata, India. When he had booked his ticket last year, to fly via Delhi, there was no testing requirement on arrival. So a short layover was enough to change over terminals in Delhi to continue his flight to Kolkata. 

 

But on 1 December as the mandatory PCR tests on arrival were reintroduced, he had to pay extra to reschedule his flight to accommodate enough time to do his PCR test in Delhi before continuing his journey onto Kolkata. But then came the rule, where West Bengal government decided to restrict flights from Delhi to two to three days a week only, throwing Arijit’s entire schedule into disarray.

 

“My flight reaches Delhi on a Saturday. I have a long lay over to do my test, get my result and all the other requirements, but now but my domestic flight has been cancelled too,” Arijit told Asian Voice. "The next domestic flight to Kolkata is on Monday. Where will I go with a small child for two days? If I step out of the Delhi airport, I will be needed to quarantine for a minimum of 7 days, so I cannot take a flight on Monday either! What do I do now? Do I change my ticket again? When can I travel again? We don’t have unlimited funds and holidays at work!"

Punishment for travellers?

 

Rajdeep Datta arrived from the UK to India on 26th December 2021. Due to flight cancellations, he is now hoping to leave Kolkata for the UK on 16th January 2022.  Sharing his agony of dealing with a delayed departure amid a surge in Covid cases in India, Datta told us, “My return flight from Kolkata to London Heathrow has been cancelled at very short notice. 

 

“I know at least two people (who had family emergencies back in Kolkata) flew via third city (Delhi-Lucknow-Kolkata). In a similar way, I am contemplating flying back to the UK via another more circuitous route.”

 

To further add to the complexity of the situation, Rajdeep’s tickets were not refundable. “This is another punishment travellers have to face these days. Airlines sell refundable tickets at a premium. For every change on the ticket (even when a flight is cancelled), we have to pay fees,” he said. 

 

 

Anusua Nag Sengupta, a resident of Manchester came to India to after four years on 21st November 2021. Her scheduled flight on 23rd January 2022 got cancelled as it was a direct flight from Kolkata to London. With a two-year-old child, Anusua has to travel back to the UK on 24th January, along with her baby, hoping that this time, her flight would not be rescheduled or cancelled. 

 

“My husband went back early for work but my daughter and I stayed back for a few more days,” she told Asian Voice. 

 

“I wanted to fly back on a direct flight just to make her more comfortable but it won’t be possible anymore because of the flight restrictions. My flight got cancelled and it took 3 days to reach Air India for rescheduling our journey. Now, I have to travel from Kolkata to London via Delhi which will be quite hectic for my little one,” a worried mother told us. 

Jaydeep Bhattacharya took a direct flight to India on 26th December to spend the new year with his 82-year-old mom who stays alone in Kolkata.  Jaydeep said, “My return was booked on 9th January by a direct flight. Little did I realize that all my happiness and peace of mind will be destroyed by this bizarre decision of the Bengal government to stop all direct flights. With great difficulty, I could now get a return flight booked via Delhi on 17th January 2022. I am absolutely disgusted with this decision and would like to understand/question - Does Omicron/Delta virus travel only by direct flight?”

 

He believes that a two-weeks notice is essential for such changes to be implemented. Air India did not give him an option before 17th January, an agitated Bhattacharya told the newsweekly.  

 

He further argued how this decision alone has helped curb Omicron or Delta surge in the state. “If not, why harass and penalize the NRI community of Bengal that loves to visit their root and spends a considerable amount of money on foreign exchange?” Bhattacharya argued. 


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