Travel plans of passengers go awry over border closure

Oman Monday 21/December/2020 21:45 PM
By: Times News Service
Travel plans of passengers go awry over border closure

Muscat: People in Oman who had made plans to fly out of the country over the next few days are confused as to what action they need to take next, owing to the decision to temporarily close the country’s borders.

Some expats in the country had planned to leave permanently under the Ministry of Labour’s repatriation initiative, as well as various schemes offered by countries to which they belong. Among them was Sushil Das, who was hoping to leave on December 27.

“I had booked my tickets with Air India a while ago, but I cannot fly now owing to this decision,” he said. “I have almost completed my notice period and have made plans to vacate my flat accordingly. I am in touch with my airline, but there seems to be no clear plan right now.

“I might have to go and stay with a friend for a while until I figure out what to do next,” added Das. “My family had advised me to come home sooner and request an early release from the company, but I thought everything would be okay. This was so unexpected.”

Another expat scheduled to fly home is Cyril Delgado from the Philippines. He has booked his tickets for New Year’s Eve, but uncertainties over how long the country’s borders will remain shut for means he is currently in limbo.

The Supreme Committee to deal with COVID-19 had made the decision to temporarily close all entry ports to the country by land, air and sea from 1am on Tuesday, December 22, for up to a week.

“A lot of my friends who were planning to go to the Philippines to meet their families for Christmas and the New Year are now stuck here,” he admitted. “Let us hope the decision to stop passenger flights ends after a week.”

“I had expected to travel to Qatar on Tuesday to bring my family back from Doha, but I have to reschedule my flight tonight,” Omani national Sultan Al Kiyumi, told Times of Oman.

A travel agent in Oman said he and his team had been inundated with calls ever since the decision was made. Emergency plans have since been drawn up to accommodate passenger needs, and he is hopeful the closure will only last for a week.

“Our biggest challenge is the roughly 450 passengers who are going home on two repatriation flights on Tuesday,” said Faiyaz Khan, the general manager at Travel Point.

“These are charter flights that were booked many weeks ago. All of the passengers scheduled to fly have already taken their PCR tests, so if they are not allowed to board, then they might sadly have to take these tests again. Maybe we can ask the airlines if there are arrangements that can be made to take these people home, because it will be very difficult to reschedule these flights.

“We have set up a 24-hour hotline for passengers and those enquiring about flights, our offices will be kept open late, and our kiosk at the airport will also be open 24x7, so that passengers can have their queries answered,” he said. “I have called for an emergency meeting with my staff to plan the next steps, and we have 15 people manning our hotline to help customers.

“Business was just beginning to pick up and we were expecting a lot of inbound travellers, particularly from India and the other Asian markets. All of that has unfortunately ended for now but we hope this is only a short-term measure. Truth be told, this development is not good news, but we understand that the health of people comes first,”  Khan added.