Wednesday, July 29, 2020

How Amritsar Airport Helped Thousands Stranded, Return Home Safely

In late March 2020, Government of India announced lockdown of whole country, leaving thousands of foreign nationals stranded across the country. Many countries started repatriation flights for their citizens, including US, Netherlands, Malaysia, etc from the country.

Punjab has one of the biggest diasporas settled in UK, Canada, Australia and other countries. Majority of them visit Punjab during winter and spring months. Before lockdown, Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport Amritsar was directly connected to 9 major international destinations including London and Birmingham. Majority of the passengers from Australia travelled via Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia, Malindo Air or Singapore on Scoot airlines. Qatar airways also provided convenient connectivity to North America and European destinations.

With lockdown imposed on very short notice, thousands of foreign residents got stuck in Punjab. Even a complete lockdown kept the holy city airport and its staff busy for the operation of special repatriation flights by many countries. The first repatriation flight took off from the airport for Malaysia by Malindo airlines to Kuala Lumpur. Malindo Air repatriated about 180 Malaysian residents from Amritsar. Soon after, many more countries started special flights from Amritsar.

There was an estimate that around 15,000 UK citizens were stuck in Punjab. The UK government started with 3 flights from Amritsar from 2nd week of April from Amritsar. Due to high demand, they continued to add more flights. A total of 28 flights operated by British and Qatar Airways from April till May 15, 2020 flew around 8,271 people back to their home.

British Airways was the first UK airline to land in Amritsar and also the first airline to operate a direct flight between London Heathrow and Amritsar in 10 years. Air India suspended its direct Amritsar-London-Toronto flight in October 2010.

While these UK flights were operating, there was also a big demand by the stranded Canadian residents for direct repatriation flights from Amritsar to Canada. Initially, Air India operated special flights for Canadians via Delhi to London with onward connectivity on Air Canada to Toronto and Vancouver.
29/07/20 Ravreet Singh/
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