Muscat: Expats returning to Oman from India on special flights are being forced to pay more than three times the cost of a standard ticket.
Social workers and those assisting in bringing expats back say this is because travel agents claim the extra fees go towards arranging a chartered flight and receiving approval from Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), without which returning passengers cannot board their flights to Oman.
However, the ministry has confirmed that there is no charge for seeking approval to return to the country.
Passengers returning to the Sultanate have spoken of the large sums of money they are compelled to fork out to come back to the country.
Normally a one-way ticket from India costs OMR40 to OMR80 depending on the destination. But ever since flights stopped, the price of the one-way tickets with approval has gone up to OMR 245.
“We are charging OMR235 if you want to fly from Delhi or Mumbai to Muscat. But you have to pay OMR245 if you want to fly from Chennai or Bangalore. You just need to fill up a MoFA form and we will do the rest. The money includes flights and MoFA approval,” confirmed a travel agent in Ruwi.
According to the Indian Embassy, more than 300 chartered flights have already operated from various destinations in India to Muscat and Salalah.
S K, a passenger who returned from the Indian state of Kerala said, “I was charged about OMR190 for a ticket to return to Oman. A one-way ticket to my hometown normally costs about OMR60. This is too much money.”
“What’s worse is that they kept rescheduling our flight timings, just hours before we were expected to take off. First, we were expected to take off at 8pm India time, then, they made it 5:30pm so we had to change our plans accordingly. Once we reached the airport, they told us the flight had been delayed. It would now only take off at 8:55pm. It was a really frustrating experience,” he added.
Another passenger, who made the trip from New Delhi to Muscat said she had to pay more than INR40,000 (OMR210) for a one-way ticket, when the average cost for such a journey is only about OMR90.
“I paid this money because my daughter is here, and I need to take care of her,” she said.
“My husband cannot manage his job and our household on his own. I was speaking to other passengers who had made similar journeys, and they all said they had to pay high amounts to come back home. It is a lot of money, but we don’t have a lot of choice. Our families and livelihoods are here.”
PM Jabir is the community welfare secretary for the Indian Social Club in Muscat and has helped organise many flights for people who want to go back to India. Having dealt with the challenges facing migrant workers for many years, he said it is unfair to expect people to pay this sort of money, particularly when many of them cannot afford it.
“If we were able to organise flights at subsidised rates for returning workers, we would try to do so, but we are not authorised to operate outside Oman, and we need an agent on the other side to do things for us,” he said.
“The cost being charged for tickets is too high for migrant workers to pay. In fact, many of them are waiting for the airport to reopen and for the fares to come down so that they can return.”
“We try to intervene on their behalf with the travel agents organising the tickets for them, but they justify the cost by saying they have to make their own expenses meet as well,” added Jabir.
“However, this is only partly true: they are charging more so that they can also make some money, and are treating this like a business, when they should understand the concerns of people.”
A similar sentiment was shared by the founder of a volunteer group that helps organise flight tickets and approvals for passengers aiming to fly back to Oman, as well as expats who want to be reunited with their families in the Sultanate.
“There is a case of a father who is not earning much right now, and so he cannot afford to bring back his daughter from Mumbai,” she revealed.
“She is currently staying with some friends, and when he asked us for help in reducing the price of the ticket, the travel agent said he would have to pay the full amount of OMR200. This is really unfair.”
“A lot of agents are saying the MoFA approval process will cost passengers OMR50, but that is not true, as we have secured approvals for many returning passengers,” she added.
“The agents are trying to make money off people’s desperation to return. There is another man in Oman who has paid OMR300 to an agent so that his daughter can fly from Kolkata, but the agent is not moving the process forward and keeps giving some or the other excuse. The poor man is crying to me on the phone, telling me all he wants is to see his daughter. When I tried to contact the agent, he at first dodged my questions, and then stopped answering my calls altogether.”