Arundev, a 26-year-old NRK in Dubai who hails from Harippad in Alappuzha, is in a fix.
For the past several days, he has been desperately trying for a ticket to travel to Kerala to attend the marriage of his cousin, but in vain. Tickets on almost all airlines have been sold out till mid-September and now he has lost hope to join his family on the joyous occasion.
Arundev is not alone; thousands of Malayalis in the Gulf region are facing travel worries following the strike by a section of AI pilots. And many haven’t applied for leave during Onam owing to the shortage of air tickets. “The situation is quite unprecedented,” says YSG James, president of the Kairali Pravasi Association, Dubai.
“Not just non-availability of tickets, the jacked up rates are unaffordable to around 80 per cent of the Malayalee population here who are workers and labourers. Right in the beginning of the strike we had written to the Centre and the State Governments to intervene in the issue but nothing positive happened,” he said.
“Ticket charges to the Gulf sector have increased manifold after the strike and now there is not a single ticket available till September 15 to the Gulf sector,” says K V Muraleedharan, president of the Kerala Association of Travel Agents.
“The charges which ranged between Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000 before the strike has now increased manifold to `30,000 - `60,000,” he said. However, the AI officials said that the situation was common every year during the peak season from July to mid-September.
“The only difference this year is the exorbitant rates charged by other carriers owing to the twenty percent cancellation of AI schedules,” said Abey George, Air India PRO. The NRK associations are now demanding the Centre to declare the Open Sky Policy in the Gulf sector which will help them to get more services at competiive rates.
“Though we submitted several memoranda to the Centre in this regard, the government has not considered the option,” said Rajesh Rajendran, secretary of an NRK association in Qatar.
“The strong Kerala presence in the Union Cabinet hasn’t helped the cause,” he adds. NORKA Minister K C Joseph said that the government could do little on the issue. “It’s true that the NRKs are having a tough time. The Chief Minister and myself will meet Union Civil Aviation Minister this week and appraise him of the grave situation. We hope the issue would be settled soon,” the Minister said. However, the NRKs are not quite optimistic as Joseph.
“I have a collection of around 300 assurances by Kerala ministers,” said YSG James who has been working in Dubai for 45 years.
“Politicians remember us only when they need money. They will visit us to collect funds and leave after offering hollow promises,” he said.