New Delhi: Last month, New Delhi-Dubai and Mumbai-Dubai were the third and eighth busiest international routes in the world, according to UK-based aviation data company OAG.
However, flights between India and Dubai dropped significantly in the month of May with at least two airplanes, of Air India and Emirates, flying from Mumbai to Dubai with just one passenger on board.
“It’s probably a case of good passenger load in one direction, say, when they flew from Dubai to Mumbai, and then poor on the return leg. The airline would have operated the return leg anyway, even with zero paying passengers on board,” an official from an Indian carrier was quoted as saying in an India Today report.
The second wave of coronavirus led to a record surge in cases across India and, therefore, several countries put restrictions on travellers from India. This included the UAE, which imposed a ban on 25 April and has extended it till 14 June.
Only those who hold UAE Golden Visas, UAE nationals and diplomats are exempted from this rule.
This was a boon for Oswald Raphael Rodrigues, who had received his UAE Golden Visa just two weeks before urgently flying to Mangalore on 11 May. His father was ailing in the ICU for a diabetes-related condition.
After scrambling for flights he was able to secure a ticket as the solitary passenger on an Air India flight. He paid Rs 38,000 for a business class ticket.
But this was not the first such incident. A few days ago, on 19 May, 40-year-old Golden visa holder Bhavesh Javeri was also the sole passenger on an Emirates flight from Mumbai to Dubai. He paid Rs 18,000 for an economy ticket.
Solitary flights to Dubai
According to Rodrigues, “Over the course of 10 days by God’s grace and our family prayers my dad had an amazing recovery which we are very grateful for. However, by now I was worrying about how I will get back to my family and work in Dubai.”
He had first booked himself on a direct SpiceJet flight which got cancelled just 12 hours before he was supposed to reach the airport.
“I then frantically tried booking a sooner flight to Dubai which is when I got the Air India one from Mumbai on 22 May but I was uncertain. My connecting flight from Mangalore to Mumbai was also a very tight one but I was lucky I managed, but not without a struggle,” he told ThePrint.
Upon arrival at the Mumbai airport, his RT-PCR report’s QR code failed to show the full negative report, without which he could not board the flight. He was then escorted by the Air India ground staff to a Rapid Covid-19 testing centre where he got tested again and boarded the 787 Dreamliner as the only passenger.
Javeri, meanwhile, described his solitary experience aboard the Emirates flight as the “best flight ever”.
“The novelty kept on coming through the flight in the form of the familiar inflight public address, delivered with a personal touch. ‘Mr Javeri, please fasten your seat belt. Mr Javeri, we are preparing to land.’ After we landed, I walked out leisurely and picked up my bag, the only one lying next to a conveyor belt,” he was quoted as saying.
ThePrint tried reaching Air India via calls and messages but did not receive a response till the time of publishing.
Meanwhile, an airline spokesperson from Emirates said, “As of now we don’t have a quote for this.”
The aviation sector was one of the hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the unprecedented second wave in India exacerbated its struggles while it was still recovering from the 2020 lockdown.
In March last year, the government had allowed airlines to use passenger aircrafts to ferry cargo. “Besides relying on high passenger load on one leg, airlines are also carrying cargo on flights that have low passenger traffic to stem the staggering losses and at times break even,” an industry official said.
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