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Several Indians returning to U.S., Canada denied boarding on repatriation flight

The airline said all information related to the flights had been published on the website including travel regulations set by Indian authorities.  

Several Indians returning to the United States and Canada said they were not allowed to board a repatriation flight operating to Frankfurt and beyond after they reached the Mumbai airport from various parts of India on Sunday.

Vancouver-resident Pal Pillai, among those who were denied boarding on the Lufthansa flight said, “They started checking passengers outside the terminal. There was a lot of confusion and the checking staff kept referring matters to their seniors who were inside the terminal building. When my turn came, I was turned away by the staff citing that Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules did not allow permanent residents of Canada like me to fly.”

Mr. Pillai, a partner at a sports photography agency and who came to Mumbai in early March as part of an assignment for the Indian Premier League (IPL), has a 6-year-old son and a wife waiting in Vancouver for the past three months. He has been staying in Dombivali with his senior citizen parents.

“All the passengers turned away, some 15-odd of us had tickets and boarding passes. We had filled up all our details and the airline not once disclosed that there was a rule preventing us from flying. Bookings should have not been processed to begin with. They have made this a joke,” said Mr. Pillai who booked his ticket just 40-hours earlier paying ₹98,000.

Arifa Desai, who came from Surat, was among those who were refused boarding. “I waited for 6 hours hoping that they would clarify the rules and allow us to board since there is no rule preventing our travel. when I finally went inside the terminal with the help of security personnel, the aircraft had already taken off. The staff spoke to me rudely when I mentioned that they should have informed the passengers who were denied boarding since we were all still at the airport,” Ms. Desai said.

Passengers alleged that the airline blamed it on the government though there was no rule stopping their travel. Mr. Pillai said he had gathered that passengers had travelled from as far and wide as Bengaluru for the flight purchasing tickets for about ₹1 lakh each.

In a detailed statement, a Lufthansa spokesperson said overall, flights currently were subject to entry regulations set by countries worldwide. “As for India, the German embassy has obtained approval for Lufthansa to operate two relief flights to and from Mumbai. The approval includes all E.U. nationals and E.U. residents, as well as U.S. and Canadian nationals and their spouses [including Indian spouses]. However, unfortunately we do not have the permission by the Indian government to fly Indian citizens to the U.S. and Canada yet, even if they hold a working/residence permit for these countries.”

The airline said all information related to both flights had been published on the Lufthansa India customer website, including travel regulations set by Indian authorities. “Nevertheless, Lufthansa displayed great efforts to proactively contact every passenger booked on both relief flights in case he/she didn’t meet the travel regulations set by Indian authorities. This of course is dependent on a customer providing his/her email address or telephone number when booking the flight [as stipulated by the Indian government],” the spokesperson said.

The German airline also said it would have included the government restriction that we are not allowed to fly Indian citizens to the U.S. and Canada as part of the online check-in process to obtain your boarding pass. However, we ask for our customers’ understanding that there was not sufficient time as the restrictions were unilaterally set by the Indian authorities at short notice earlier this week.

“We are aware and understand the plight of U.S. and Canadian residents who need to return to their job; they are our valued customers and we want to be there for them. Once the Indian authorities grant permission for us to fly these passengers we will be honoured having them on board again.”

Based on demand, Lufthansa is operating two repatriation flights from Mumbai to Frankfurt. While the first flight left on Sunday, the second is scheduled for June 9.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 10:28:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/several-indians-returning-to-us-canada-denied-boarding-on-repatriation-flight/article31772939.ece

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