DUBAI: Passengers lined up at Dubai International Airport.

By Sajeev K Peter

KUWAIT: Hundreds of expats, mostly Indians, bound for Kuwait, remain stranded in various hotels in the United Arab Emirates as they are unable to obtain onward bookings to Kuwait due to COVID-related travel restrictions. Kuwait had banned flights from 34 countries. Exasperated and frustrated, many people have started to go back to India as their one-month tourist visas to stay in the UAE have expired. While the demand for UAE-Kuwait flights soared and airfares skyrocketed, people are paying exorbitant fares out of despair to reach Kuwait before their residences expire, sources said.

"I reached Kuwait along with my son from Dubai yesterday on a Kuwait Airways flight after paying AED 3,400 (KD 284) per ticket," said Shaukat Ali, an Indian expat who runs a small business in downtown Kuwait. Ali said the fares have even gone up to AED 5,000 (KD 417) today for a ticket to Kuwait from Dubai and nearly thousand people are still waiting for a ticket," he said. Although, Kuwait Airways has begun operating additional flights every alternate days following the backlog since October 7, people find it extremely difficult to find an onward booking, the sources said.

Currently, there are no direct flights from India to Kuwait prompting hundreds of expats to transit through Dubai or Sharjah to reach Kuwait after UAE started issuing visit/tourist visas. "Even though we have to spend 14 days in the UAE to complete the mandatory quarantine to enter Kuwait, we opted for it because we hope that we could reach Kuwait somehow. Now, we lost even that hope," said Abdulkareem, an Indian expat speaking on phone from Dubai.

"We are in deep trouble now. Many have their one-month UAE visas expired. Some of us are even facing serious psychological problems now," said Abdulkareem. According to him, people who completed their 14-day quarantine period are facing a crisis without getting any support from anyone. Travel agencies in both UAE and Kuwait express their inability to help the situation in the face of a huge backlog and soaring demand for tickets.

According to a travel industry source in Kuwait, ticket prices from the UAE have jumped because more and more people are now opting for a 14-day layover in UAE as a means to reach Kuwait. Meanwhile, people who are stuck in various hotels in the UAE seek to put the blame on travel agencies and airlines for jacking up fares during a critical situation. "Travel agencies are exploiting the situation," said George Varghese, an Indian expat in Kuwait, who arrived in Kuwait two weeks ago via Dubai. A one-way economy class ticket to Kuwait from Dubai, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi now costs between AED 3,500 and AED 6,000 (KD 300 to 500) against the fares of AED 300-AED 600 (KD 25 - 50) during the pre-COVID days.

Travel industry sources, however, defend the spike in airfares, claiming that airlines are not permitted to operate flights in full capacity and that they have to strictly adhere to COVID-19 operating procedure considerably limiting the passengers' numbers. Kuwait currently permits only residents and citizens to fly into the country.