Stranded passengers returning home from Egypt on Tuesday complained that Air India charged a hefty Rs. 45,000 to Rs. 55,000 for a one-way ticket to Mumbai but the airlines justified the fares, saying its services were not designated by the government as ‘evacuation flights’ where the cost could have been nominal or even free.

While Air India does not operate to Egypt, other global carriers which operate from there, like Egypt Air, Qatar Airways, Oman Air and others, were also demanding “very high fares” and that too in cash at the Cairo airport, said passengers who returned by Air India to Mumbai this morning.

Air India could operate one more special flight to Cairo soon, official sources told PTI.

Asked why such high fares were being charged by Air India from Indians stranded at Cairo for the special flights, airline sources said the two flights which brought back over 550 passengers were operated on commercial basis and “not as evacuation flights” where the cost of air travel could either have been entirely free or nominal.

They said these flights “could not be termed as evacuation flights as that would have had a different connotation in the diplomatic parlance regarding the situation there”.

“These were purely commercial flights. Moreover, since we do not operate to Cairo, we had to fly in our commercial staff from Mumbai to make arrangements to airlift these stranded Indians,” the sources said, adding an empty aircraft had to be flown in from Mumbai to ferry these passengers by pulling out the plane from scheduled service.

The sources maintained that the widebody aircraft was also pulled out of the fleet, meant for VIP operations, for the purpose.

The decision to operate the two commercial flights was taken after a meeting a senior Civil Aviation Ministry official had with his counterparts in the External Affairs Ministry on Sunday, the sources said.

The one—way flight from Cairo to Mumbai cost the passengers between Rs. 45,000 and Rs. 55,000 as stranded fliers alleged that they had to shell out almost more than double the cost of a single ticket for the sector.

“The airline has charged fares as high as USD 980 (Rs. 43,000). No doubt they have done a good job by rescuing us from the chaos in Cairo, but charging such exorbitant fares in such a situation is not at all justified,” said Vineet Ahuja, who landed at the Mumbai international airport this morning.

Alpana Neogy, another stranded Indian tourist, said there were Indians from Amsterdam and Nigeria who were stranded for three days at the airport.

She said it was not just Air India, but airlines like Egypt Air, Qatar Airways, Oman Air and other foreign carriers that were charging exorbitant rates from the stranded people.