Mumbai: A special Air India flight from Cairo - the second in two days - has landed in Mumbai, bringing Indians back home after they were caught in the massive unrest in Egypt.
"The situation is very bad. We were there for a day but we couldn't step out. Some of the buildings were set on fire. All the protesters were on the road. While going to the airport we were stuck for about 5-6 hours," said a passenger named Rashmi.
Sanjay Choudhary had travelled to the Egyptian capital for a conference. "We couldn't get out of the hotel...there were quite a few demonstrations right outside the hotel. Whatever you saw on TV was exactly how it was. There was a lot of tension in the city," he recalled.
Yesterday, Air India flew 300 Indians to Mumbai. Some passengers say that Air India has exploited the crisis, by charging them more than a normal Cairo-Mumbai fare. (Read: Air India responds to allegations of overcharging Indians in Cairo)
"When I went there, I booked return tickets for me and my wife for Rs. 56,000. And now we are being told that we have to pay Rs. 45,000 per head, else we can't fly on this plane. There was no formal documentation or invoice, they had put up a board which stated that we had to pay $980. The Japanese and Turkish Governments had flown out their citizens free of cost. Passengers from US and UK were also flown out... There was so much chaos, we did not have any other option. It was literally like being blackmailed, we were told that we would have to pay, else they could not do anything," said Vineet Ahuja, a businessman who landed in Mumbai today on the Air India flight.
However, Air India representatives say that the airline does not normally fly to Egypt, and it used market rates to decide its fare of Rs. 45,000 per head.
The Foreign Ministry says that on January 29, Indians in Cairo asked the government to help Indian tourists and others stationed in Egypt fly home. The government then made it clear that because it did not see the need for a formal evacuation, passengers would have to pay for their flights home. The Indian community agreed, partly because other airlines were seeing major disruptions to their operations.
Air India had to take into account that its flights to Cairo would be empty. It also had to pull planes out of other routes.
When passengers arrived to board the Air India flights, many said that because ATMs were not open in Cairo, they did not have enough cash to pay for their flights in Cairo. The government asked them to settle their bills upon landing in India.
"We are not forcing Indians to come back, we have only issued an advisory," said External Affairs Minister SM Krishna today.
But if passengers wish, the government says, they can complain to the aviation ministry about their fares and all such protests will be investigated.