British Indians battle the holiday blues to reunite with family

British Indians battle the holiday blues to reunite with family
Courtesy: izusek | E+ via Getty Images

The annual holiday season around New Year is always special. Exciting. Unfortunately, this holiday season had other plans for the British Indians. The excitement of the holiday planners turned into extreme anxiety with ever-changing and vague travel guidelines by the airlines, unannounced flight cancellations, and a sudden rise of Omicron cases.

With all major cities closing or excessively limiting international flights to the UK, right now the biggest challenge the British Indians are facing who're stuck in India, is to come back to the UK. And with all UK schools already opened, parents whose kids are missing out are perhaps wishing they had never taken this holiday in the first place.

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The joy of holidaying

Indian classical singer Paromita Goswami was very excited to go to India like anybody else. She started planning in October last year, and until the very last moment, everything seemed pretty smooth. But with the surge of Omicron cases, things have drastically changed.

Presently stuck in Kolkata with her seven-year-old kid, Paramita is desperately looking for a way to come back.

A day before her travel, when things were yet to get this volatile, she had told us, the pre-flight preparation was proving to be quite complicated.

"With all the transitions that are taking place around the world, I understand the limitations we all have, and honestly, I don't blame anybody. But having said that, yes, I do expect that it would be great if the travel rules in the airport guidelines were made more transparent and less ambiguous. That is when this whole chaos happens.

“Even when I'm trying to pre-book to take the rapid RT-PCR test, I'm being told that although I'm eligible, strangely, my seven-year-old son is not. And every week, every other alternate day, the rules are changing. Sometimes we're getting half baked information. So you have to chase people, contact customer care, and wait for tremendous long hours. This is the challenge," Paramita said.

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Blessing in disguise?

For someone like IT consultant Dipanjan Dasgupta from Manchester, it took a hattrick of ticket cancellations by various airlines to finally give up his plan to visit India with his wife and kid. He had started planning quite early in 2021, buying tickets from his travel agent to fly in December via Qatar Airways. While the airline has cancelled the flight, no information came forth to Dipanjan until the very last moment when he intuitively thought of checking up. Still awaiting his refund from the travel agent, Dipanjan went ahead and bought Emirates Airways tickets. However, after a series of cancellations from Emirates and its low-cost counterpart Fly Dubai, erratic change of flight timings, and spending long hours waiting for customer care, he finally succumbed to what seemed to be the whims of the airlines.

Still awaiting his refunds from various places, Dipanjan said, "Emirates said that they would fully refund the tickets after I fill up an enormous lengthy form and apply for the refund. I did all that but will now only trust their statement once I see the refunds come through."

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Cumbersome process

Dr Himadri Chakraborty couldn't make it to India when his father passed away because of the pandemic. Hence, as soon as the route opened, he had booked flight tickets for his family four months in advance to fly via Emirates Airlines. Nearer to the time of his journey when the airline cancelled his tickets, they didn't refund him fully.

"The refund processes are cumbersome. They're charging us a cancellation fee even when the airlines are cancelling and not us. They haven't even refunded the £400 I had paid for a special need child seat, said Himadri.

On enquiry, Emirates and Qatar Airways were not available to respond.

British Airways said: "We're sorry that, like other airlines, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions, we are operating a dynamic schedule.

“Where a customer's flight is cancelled, we always contact them to offer options, including a full refund.

“We advise customers to check the latest UK government travel advice at Gov.UK and the latest flight information at ba.com."

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Things to keep in mind:

If you test positive for Covid-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • Can access money

  • Understand what your insurance will cover

  • Can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Return journey

  • With effect from January 7, you do not need to take a Covid-19 test before you travel to England

  • You do not need to quarantine when you arrive in England

  • If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England as of this week, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.

  • You must book the test before you travel to England.

  • If you take a lateral flow test and test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take a free PCR test.

For the last two pandemic-hit years, we had held our breaths and waded through the dark tunnel. We kept waiting for the good times to return when the travel restrictions would ease, and we would finally get to be with our loved ones back in India.

It would seem more patience is required, with the hope of safer travel times ahead.

*Travel info: Gov.UK

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