Mumbai

Ex-Air Asia pilot recounts harrowing experience on arrival in Mumbai

Back home: Passengers board a bus heading to a quarantine centre on arriving at Mumbai international airport.

Back home: Passengers board a bus heading to a quarantine centre on arriving at Mumbai international airport.   | Photo Credit: -

Passengers from Malaysia charged ₹600 for ride on overcrowded bus; Thane hotel demands ₹82,500 for 14-day quarantine

An Air Asia pilot from Malaysia, who lost his job nearly two months ago, had to go through an ordeal on his return to India in the early hours of May 13.

On landing in Mumbai with his wife, the pilot, who wished to remain anonymous, had to pay ₹600 each for both to board a mini-bus that took them to Thane from the airport. The operator of the vehicle had an ‘On government duty’ label on the windshield.

“The bus was overcrowded with no physical distancing being followed. The help desk told us to pay up whatever we were being charged. When we asked for tickets or receipt against the money, they refused to give us either,” the pilot said.

The passengers were told they would be taken to the Thane Collector’s office and from there, be sent to quarantine centres of their choice. However, they were taken directly to a hotel in Thane, the pilot said.

Arduous journey

The ordeal began in Malaysia for the pilot, who is a resident of Nerul in Navi Mumbai. After being pressured by his Malaysian landlord to vacate his house, the pilot boarded a flight back home on May 12 after standing in a queue for eight hours.

The five-hour flight was followed by a nearly four-hour wait for thermal screening on arrival at Mumbai international airport. The pilot and his wife eventually reached the hotel, where they were given the option of paying ₹3,500 for a single occupancy or ₹5,500 for double occupancy.

“When the other passengers protested and sought cheaper options, a person, who said he was from the Collector’s office, said the other alternative was a place provided by the government, and we could not complain of the lack of services there,” the pilot said.

A total of 32 passengers had landed at Mumbai airport on that flight from Malaysia, of whom 20 agreed to stay at the hotel and the rest, who could not afford the charges, left for the government accommodation.

After barely a day’s stay at the hotel, the management, the pilot claimed, demanded payment for 14 days of quarantine, which amounted to ₹82,500, including meals. “How were we expected to pay this amount without knowing about the testing formalities and if we would actually have to stay for 14 days?” the pilot asked.

‘Not a tour’

An official at the Thane collectorate, when contacted by The Hindu, said this was not a “tour plan” with options for passengers. “Private hotels are coming forward to help us with discounted rate while they are short-staffed,” the official said.

The hotel was also providing free rooms to 25 doctors who were working day and night with the quarantined people, the official said. “We have also received requests for stay at costlier hotels with better luxuries. We can’t cater to everyone’s demands,” the official said.

‘Travel fee unfair’

Thane Collector Rajesh Narvekar said the travel charge should not have been levied, and he would check with the Regional Transport Office, as they were providing the facilities.

“State Transport buses were to be provided for the journey. There must have been a reason to use private buses. I will look into it,” Mr. Narvekar said, adding that the procedure followed was in line with Central government directives. All those in quarantine would be screened again.

He said two days before completing the 14-day quarantine, a swab sample of each person would be taken, and when the report is confirmed to be negative, they will be discharged. As for the hotel, Mr. Narvekar said, once allotted, it cannot not be changed, as it then becomes difficult to keep track of passengers.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:29:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/ex-air-asia-pilot-recounts-harrowing-experience-on-arrival-in-city/article31636175.ece

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