Coronavirus | We followed standard practices for evacuation flights, says Australian diplomat

File photo of Barry O’Farrell.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Australia followed established commercial practices for evacuation flights, a senior Australian official said here during the weekend, after critics accused Canberra of charging exorbitantly for tickets.

Passengers told The Hindu that they were being asked to pay AUD2,200 to AUD3,000 for the one-way flight. “It is a very high amount for many of us, as we are returning home amidst a recession and the possibility of job losses,” said a passenger on condition of anonymity.

“Flying commercial charter flights in the current circumstances involve a number of challenges. We followed the standard practice in this case. At least two other countries — the United States and Canada — also did the same,” said Australia’s High Commissioner-Designate to India, Barry O’Farrell, explaining airlines considered multiple options before deciding on the cost of tickets for the commercial charter flights.

The evacuation of nearly 6,000 Australian citizens stranded in India began on April 12, when the nationals mobilised themselves through an India-based Australian expat’s social media initiative.

‘Not economic’

The flights could carry only one set of outgoing passengers as India has taken the position that no one was allowed to arrive from overseas. This impacted the cost of air tickets as the flights flew empty one way.

“The first airline we spoke to was unable to provide a quote [for cost of ticket] as ferrying people only one way was not economic for a long haul direct flight to Australia,” said Mr. O’Farrell, who said that Australian Consular teams had been trying to assist all their nationals stranded in India despite several movement-related restrictions.

The Indian government, said Mr. O'Farrell, had also expedited the process of refunding of tickets of Australian nationals booked between March 25 and April 14.

The government in Canberra has set up a quarantine facility where passengers will have to spend a fortnight upon their return. Australia has organised several chartered flights from South Asia over the past week, and is expected to do so over the rest of April.

Australian citizens in India who fail to catch the chartered flights may have to travel on their own after the Indian lockdown is eased on May 3.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 6:06:37 PM |

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