• Kuwait has announced travel restrictions for flights from about 35 countries.
  • Only 1,500 passengers are being allowed into Kuwait per day.
  • Ticket prices, which generally range between Dh300-500, are now going for as high as Dh8,000.
  • Indian expats in Kuwait are flying through the UAE as direct flights are not available.

Dubai: Thousands of expats, mostly Indian, based in Kuwait, who were looking to fly to their country of residence from their home countries via the UAE, say they are unable to get flight bookings, even as air fares have shot up.

Travel industry sources said passengers from various countries are finding it difficult to continue their onward journey to Kuwait because flights are full and airfares have skyrocketed. The demand for UAE-Kuwait flights went up after travel restrictions for flights from about 35 countries were announced by the Gulf country.

“Since there are no direct flights from their home countries where they were stranded due to COVID-19, thousands of expats from Kuwait opted to fly back via the UAE after Dubai and Sharjah started issuing tourist/visit visas. They are spending 14 days in the UAE to complete the mandatory quarantine to enter Kuwait. As more and more people opted for this route to get back to Kuwait, ticket prices from the UAE have skyrocketed,” said one travel industry source.

Airfares to Kuwait from Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi now range from Dh2,265 to a whopping Dh8,270 for a one-way economy class ticket, against Dh300-Dh500 during the pre-COVID days. Gulf News could verify this from airline websites. The high cost apart, passengers said tickets have been sold out for at least three weeks in October on most of the airlines’ websites. Moreover, industry sources pointed out that airlines have to block seats for social distancing and only 1,500 passengers are allowed to fly in to Kuwait from the UAE per day as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. Only residents and work permit holders can fly to Kuwait now, said Priya Nithin from the sales and marketing team of Kuwait Airways. “Only 1,500 passengers in total can be flown from the UAE per day. We are flooded with requests for tickets which we are unable to issue as flights are full for a couple of weeks,” she said.

Passengers speak

Sajeed K.C, an interior designer in Kuwait, who landed in Dubai on September 15, said, “My quarantine period got over on September 29 but I can’t get tickets now. I have contacted three travel agencies. But, they are saying there are no tickets for the next 15 days. By then my one-month visa here will expire. I am ready to pay up to Dh3,000 for the ticket but it seems the fares are going even higher. Thankfully, my company has just managed to renew my visa online. But I still need to reach there soon as there is a lot of work to do.”

Sharafudheen and four of his colleagues, who are salesmen at a sportswear company in Kuwait, said they are concerned about the high ticket rates. “We arranged stay in a shared bachelors’ accommodation because we can’t afford to stay in hotels. We never thought that we will have to spend much more for the tickets. We appeal to the authorities to help us,” he said.

Sunaid K.V, a retail buyer in Kuwait, said he knew of over 100 expats from the South Indian state of Kerala alone, who are currently waiting to fly out from the UAE. They had started a WhatsApp group to explore the possibility of chartering a flight. “The group was created because we can’t get tickets for weeks and the available tickets are extremely costly. There are members whose quarantine time is over and not getting tickets. Coordinators of the group are trying hard to arrange a charter flight.”

Dubai quarantine package

Riyas Hyder, managing director of Paris Tours in Sharjah, said travel companies like his had started different “Dubai quarantine packages” for Kuwait passengers. “Many Indian passengers didn’t require accommodation as they have friends or relatives who can accommodate them. We arranged furnished apartments or hotel accommodations for passengers from Pakistan and Egypt,” he said.

The quarantine package for two persons sharing accommodation was sold for Dh1,650, including the charges for COVID-19 RT-PCR test and airport transfer. “Earlier, we used to book tickets for the customers after they land here only. But now we are struggling to books tickets to Kuwait and we have started informing customers before they fly in.”

Book before you fly to UAE

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travels, urged passengers to Kuwait to book their ticket for the onward journey from the UAE well in advance. “The problem is these passengers are flying into the UAE without ensuring their onward tickets to Kuwait. They are trying to book the tickets after spending some days here. They should not fly to the UAE without booking their tickets to Kuwait.” He said the airlines and travel agents should not exploit the situation and overcharge expats who are already spending a lot on their travel.

Sunaid, who is staying with his colleague Mashood Mahmood in a Dubai hotel, said. “We are opting for this time consuming and expensive route to get back to our workplace. We have to pay for our 14 days’ stay here if we don’t have friends or relatives who can accommodate us. We need to do four RT-PCR tests in total during the journey and also go for two more weeks’ quarantine after landing in Kuwait. We hope more seats are made available and ticket prices are capped.”

Connecting flights

Due to their desperate situation, stranded passengers are even ready to fly to Kuwait via Bahrain or Amman, industry sources said.

A local representative of Bahrain’s Gulf Airways confirmed that all Dubai-Bahrain-Kuwait flights have been completely sold out for the month. “We are operating four days a week to Kuwait.” Kuwait Airways has been getting bookings from passengers flying via Amman also, said Nithin.