19 June 2020 I Nepal nationals caught up in Australia are furious with their government for assuming “all the people stranded are millionaires” after they are told to pay almost three times the normal airfare to Kathmandu.
Those who had contacted the Nepalese mission in Canberra confirming their willingness to return to Nepal have been advised to contact a private travel company in Kathmandu and transfer US$1615 a ticket, approximately $2350 Australian dollars.
The Nepal Airlines tickets are costing considerably more than what India is asking its citizens to pay under Vande Bharat Mission.
India, Nepal’s next-door neighbour, is flying its citizens for at least $750 less than what their Nepalese counterparts are having to cope.
Indians returning home under one of history’s biggest repatriation exercise are paying only 1670 Australian dollars as opposed Nepalese citizens paying 2350 Australian dollars.
Ambassador Mahesh Raj Dahal told southasia.com.au his fellow citizens could have been paying even more than the $2400 (US$ 1615) if his office had not pleaded with the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Nepal.
“I do agree it is little dearer but this is something the Nepalese mission had no control on. I and other staff at our mission did try to bring it down as we were very concerned about our people, in particular the senior citizens,” he rued.
Mr Dahal remarked that people who came from Nepal earlier on three Nepal Airlines repatriation flights might have jobs they could rely on but those returning to Nepal from Australia may have no income whatsoever. With that realisation, the embassy did try to pull strings to make the tickets cheaper, Mr Dahal said in a telephone interview.
The two repatriation flights are scheduled to depart Australia next week. Nepal Airlines flight RA-4134 is due to leave Sydney on June 23 where RA-4136 will depart Melbourne on June 26.
According to the ambassador, over 1300 people had initially expressed their interest in returning home through the chartered flights. However, almost half of them failed to reconfirm their interest, most likely due to the exorbitant cost. The ambassador said there could be any number of factors responsible for people opting not to board the repatriation flights. In addition to the flight cost, comparatively safer environment in Australia could be another reason why some people did not show interest in the immediate repatriation.
Ershad Ahmed from Everest Travel and Tours says, before COVID-19, average cost to Nepal was around $800-$900 but often went down as low as $600 off season. According to the Sydney-based business owner, it cost only $1200-$1400 even during peak season which is still $1000 less than the repatriation flights being arranged by Nepalese government.
Some have taken to social media to complain that the Nepalese government is taking advantage of the situation, many blaming the Embassy of Nepal in Canberra. However, the ambassador clarified that his office could not have played a role in determining the price as all background work was carried out by his bosses back home.
Some have questioned Nepal Airlines involving a ticketing agency in Kathmandu whereas the targeted passengers are stuck here in Australia.
Mr Ahmed thinks using a ticketing agency makes sense under the circumstances.
“For ticketing arrangement, yes, it’s easier for an airlines to go through travel agency as it minimizes their work. But at this time they could have chosen an agency in Australia as it could ease the passengers’ payment process, handling etc and they could save little money too,” he stated.
“Why did you not complain when Australians paid $1650 to come home from Nepal? How come you are complaining now that Nepal is flying passengers for $1615?”, the man asked in a conversation with southasia.com.au. He called it a “discrimination”.
A Nepalese man who did not want to be identified said he finds it ludicrous that people are blaming the Nepalese embassy for the US$ 1615 ticket price whereas they were praising the Australian embassy in Kathmandu for bringing Aussies for the same amount of money.
Added to the exorbitant air tickets is the 14-day self-funded hotel quarantine once they arrive in Nepal.