Hadiul Islam, a Bangladeshi expatriate, came home from Saudi Arabia on a vacation in February, 2020.
Like many, he could not return workplace due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Islam has reestablished contact with his employer after around two years and managed an assurance of reemployment. But what comes as the main hurdle for him now to return to workplace is the high airfare.
But he is not sure whether he would be able to return to his workplace in time or not as air ticket price on Dhaka-Riyadh route is beyond his capacity.
“All Bangladesh Biman tickets to Saudi Arabia are booked till February. I went to Emirates, Saudia and Qatar Airways offices but they asked for Tk 111,214, Tk 133,109 and Tk 124,975 respectively for an economy class ticket for January 31,” Hadiul Islam said to this correspondent.
Unemployed in the last two years, he is now unable to pay such a huge amount as airfare as he spent most of his savings during the pandemic.
He recalled when he came home the fare was only Tk 34,500.
“I don’t get much salary. How can I buy a ticket at such a high price? I see no way but to borrow. If I borrow, how I will run my family,” said Islam standing in front of Saudia office in Dhaka on Monday.
Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad expressed annoyance after repeatedly requesting the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism to look into the matter.
“I am tired of requesting and writing letters to Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) and the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism in this regard,” he said.
Besides, the manpower recruiters, travel agents, hajj agencies and Middle East bound workers said that a 23-hour journey from Dhaka to New York costs only Tk 65,000 but a six-hour trip to the Middle East costs Tk 110,000.
Earlier, the fare on Dhaka-Dubai route was Tk 40,000, now it is over Tk 100,000.
On Dhaka-Muscat route, the one-way fare was Tk 35,000 but now all the airlines are charging over Tk 72,000, they said.
According to travel agents, passengers from Bangladesh are spending Tk 65,000 to Tk 140,000 for a ticket of a flight bound to Middle Eastern countries while tickets for the same destination are available from the neighboring countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka at Tk 20,000 to Tk 30,000.
In the face of their continuous demand, Biman Bangladesh Airlines has reduced air ticket price to Middle Eastern countries earlier this month but by the time all Biman tickets on these routes have been booked till February.
Former president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) Abul Bashar said, “Expatriate workers are going to Saudi Arabia on employment visas in large numbers now. Apart from this, visit visa (tourist) and Umrah visa have also been introduced in the country after a long break.”
“The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has started issuing many visit visas while other Middle Eastern countries are also following the same path,” he added.
Bashar said due to these reasons, the destinations in the Middle East have additional pressures of passengers.
According to Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB), airfares are determined almost the same way around the world. The fare increases when the demand rises.
“The airlines are not being allowed to operate any special flight now. Although there is an increased demand, the airlines are operating only 40 per cent flights compared to pre-COVID-19 period,” said ATAB general secretary Mazharul H Bhuiyan.
“Maybe there are 5,000 passengers, but the number of available tickets is 3,000 to 3,500. As a result, the remaining 2,000 passengers are waiting for the next flight,” he explained.
ATAB leaders said that when passenger requests for ticket remain pending, it increases pressure on the consequent flights.
They blamed the lack of future plan in bringing a balance to reduce the gap between supply and demand for avoiding such an unexpected situation.
Asked about the situation, State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali said, “We had several meetings at the ministry in this regard and directed CAAB to sit with all the airlines on behalf of the ministry and request them to keep the fares affordable for the passengers,” he said.
CAAB chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mofidur Rahman said, “I have already sat with all the airlines and expressed our dissatisfaction. We have requested them to reduce the fares of our passengers.”
“I also asked them to justify the reason of their airfare hike. If they fail to give a proper reply, we will take action,” he added.