Expatriates’ return: Kerala puts airfare ball in Centre’s court amid COVID-19 crisis

The airline companies are certain to fix higher airfares given social distancing norms inside aircraft and the likelihood of fewer passengers on the return flight from Kerala.

Published: 29th April 2020 06:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th April 2020 12:01 PM   |  A+A-

Kochi airport

Kochi international airport. (File | PTI)

Express News Service

KOCHI: Who will bear the airfares of expatriates returning from the Gulf? Will all those registering on the NORKA-Roots website be brought back for free? The cash-strapped Kerala government put the ball in the Centre’s court when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in his daily briefing on Monday, said the Union government should bear the financial burden of bringing people back to their homeland.

Left to them, the airline companies are certain to fix higher airfares given social distancing norms inside aircraft and the likelihood of fewer passengers on the return flight from Kerala.

A spokesman for the Emirates said, “Seats are pre-allocated with vacant seats placed between individual passengers or family groups to observe physical distancing protocols.” The Emirates did not comment on the likely airfares in the Gulf-Kerala sector when operations resume.

Kapil Kaul, CEO and director of CAPA Advisory, an aviation consulting firm, said he expects the central government to bear the cost of bringing expatriates from the Gulf. He reckoned national carrier Air India will be pressed into service while also seeking the help of other airlines. 

Last month, the Indian government evacuated over 713 students from Italy and Iran in two Air India flights.

Though the government took the financial burden, many students had bought tickets to India before being stopped from boarding without COVID-negative medical certificates.

But the Gulf evacuation will be on a different scale, considering 2.76 lakh NRKs from 150 countries have registered to return home on the Kerala government’s NORKA-Roots website.

Kaul said the Gulf evacuation process, as and when it happens, may see the Centre compensating airline companies for the extra costs they bear due to social distancing and the likelihood of empty return flights.

Suman Chowdhury, an aviation analyst and president-ratings of Mumbai-based Acute Ratings and Research, felt most expats are rich enough to pay for the airfare.

“The Covid pandemic has caused the biggest disruption to the aviation industry. So it’s impossible for airline companies to fly at normal fares,” Chowdhury said.

“I don’t expect airline companies to take greater financial burden in such a circumstance. The government needs to provide assistance only to those expats who are in financial distress.”

Normal airfares in the Gulf sector range between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 per ticket depending on the season. Without government intervention, airline companies are likely to double or even triple the fares, sources said.

Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per ticket Airfares in the Gulf sector depending on the season

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