September 26, 2020

First rescue flight from India expected to depart 24 April

Air NZ to run govt-assisted non-stop flight; more to follow

BY; Gurbir Singh

The ordeal of hundreds of New Zealanders stranded in India is coming to an end shortly. The first non-stop repatriation flight arranged by the New Zealand government is set to tentatively depart from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi on 24 April at 2am.

“Air New Zealand will run the government-assisted flights. These will be direct, non-stop flights between New Delhi and Mumbai, and New Zealand,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed this to NewsViews today.

Two other scheduled flights are expected to take off on 27 April from Mumbai and another one again from Delhi on 30 April, according to some unconfirmed reports.

Flight from Delhi
First rescue expected to depart Delhi on 24 April

Giving more details, the MFAT spokesperson says, “While the precise details are still being finalised, we expect the first flight leaving New Delhi to take place on 24 April, but this is not yet confirmed and is subject to all required arrangements and approvals being in place, including from the Govt of India.

“New Zealand citizens (and their immediate family members) will be prioritised for seats. New Zealand permanent residents and then foreign nationals who meet our current immigration requirements will be considered in the event that there are available seats.”

With regard to other expected flights from New Delhi and Mumbai, the spokesperson says, “after this initial departure, we expect to organise a further flight from New Delhi and a flight from Mumbai. Flights will be spaced 2-3 days apart to allow the necessary practical arrangements to be made on the Indian and New Zealand sides.

Giving more details to NewsViews, the spokesperson says, “Over 1200 expressions of interest were received...(and) stranded New Zealanders will need to contribute $5500 to the cost of government-facilitated flights from India, which includes ground transportation. Ticket prices do not represent the total cost of the charter operation, which is underwritten and subsidised by the Government.”  

It is understood that infants under two years of age travel free.

“Financial assistance is available by way of an advance to assist New Zealanders in financial hardship who may not able to access funds to pay for the flight upfront,” says MFAT.  

One of the passengers also confirmed to NewsViews that the NZ High Commission will “organise ground transport for all passengers to Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi prior to the flight, including permission to travel.”

For a Hamilton resident stranded in Noida (outskirts of Delhi), it’s a big relief for being tentatively prioritised in the first flight, leaving Delhi on 24 April.

“Really looking forward to be back with my family and to the ‘touchdown’, Hamilton’s Shelly Wadhwa told NewsViews this afternoon from her mother’s home in Noida.

Expressing a sense of relief that her ordeal would be over soon, she was grateful to the New Zealand government for arranging these mercy flights.

Shelly Wadhwa
Hamilton’s Shelly Wadhwa–can’t wait to be back home

“Definitely feeling relieved about the availability of flights – our plea has been heard. It is definitely a feeling of gratitude.”

Wadhwa, who went to India on 19 Feb to care and help her mum with her cancer treatment , was to fly back to New Zealand on 26 March. With the onset of Covid-19 and resultant cancellation of all flights, she has been stranded.

Shelly Wadhwa, however, expressed her displeasure at the exorbitant fare of $5500 that all passengers have to pay for this one-way return ticket to Auckland.

“None of us anticipated this price. It is extremely high and I really feel for families of 4-6 people, especially when there is a clause to pay it all within a period of 30 days,” she says.

Many passengers, including Wadhwa, have taken up the Govt’s offer of financial assistance with an undertaking to repay within 30-days.

When asked if she was aware of two-weeks of quarantine on arrival at Auckland, she replied in the affirmative and was well prepared.

“It will be definitely quite difficult to be back in the country and not be able to meet family, but I guess we will need to cope with that.”

Like Wadhwa, several stranded visitors waiting to be rescued have also been expressing their discontentment at the high fares in a FB group set up by them.

One lamented on FB: “This (high fare) sucks immensely. Praying for Australian charter flights this week”.

The NZ government is still trying to extend best possible assistance given the current Covid-19 difficult circumstances.

For those who selected Bangalore or Hyderabad as their closest airport, it is believed MFAT has assured to “run buses from these cities to connect to the flights from Mumbai”.

But this is could be a nightmare for some as travelling long distance by buses to reach the departure city, Mumbai would be full of hazards. Some fear roadblocks enroute, while for others the problem of long bus ride with toddlers and kids would be an issue.

Currently, it appears no flights have been planned to rescue those stuck in far off places, including Bangalore, Chennai in South India.

While they wait optimistically with fingers crossed, those fortunate ones like Wadhwa, are counting days to be reunited with their families back home in New Zealand.

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