RIYADH: Saudi travel companies have flown to the defense of airlines over claims they have been trying to cash in on expats looking to return to work in the Kingdom.

Following Saudi Arabia’s move to allow the partial resumption of international flights, plane operators have been running limited-capacity services for expats with Ministry of Interior approval to fly home.

But there have been complaints from passengers about the high prices being charged for one-way flight tickets.

Mohammed Aslam Jameel, supervisor at a travel agency in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Ticket prices are not as expensive as people are assuming. They could consider it as similar to booking tickets during high season.”

He said that one-way airfares were generally always more expensive than round-trip tickets. “In fact, one must appreciate that the aviation industry and travel companies have kept fares at a reasonable range, considering the six-month lull over aviation business.”

Despite holiday bookings being down, Saudi travel firms are hopeful of an uptick in business if regular flights get back to near normal in January.

“Currently, with Saudis not allowed to travel outside the Kingdom, apart from in exceptional cases with government approval, we cannot expect any boom in holiday business until the middle of next year,” Jameel said.

Feroz Khan, vice president of sales in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for WebBeds, the world’s second largest accommodation supplier to the travel industry, told Arab News: “With flight suspension removed partially by the Kingdom, Indians are looking forward to seeing airlines operating inbound flights to Saudi Arabia from India.

“With people stranded, limited flight availability, and small-bodied aircraft, demand is expected to be very high, fueling airfares to some extent.

“However, practically speaking and as per prices circulating on social media, I see it is still reasonable though on the higher side, considering the nature of the operations,” he said.

Airlines were charging the equivalent of a high-season round-trip airfare for a one-way ticket, Khan said, with, for example, a Delhi to Riyadh flight averaging SR2,000 ($533).

International flights to and from the Kingdom were suspended on March 15 as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Where the health situation has improved, countries are beginning to relax certain travel restrictions.

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