By Rudra Chhetri, Brisbane
27 June 2020
While others are about to board the second “repatriation flight” to Nepal, based on my family’s experience with the first, I must confess my extreme disappointment with Nepal government and Nepal Airlines.
Earlier this week, my parents were on the first Sydney-Kathmandu repatriation flight. The experience my dear parents had to go through on the flight as well as upon their arrival in Kathmandu was not nice, nor was it acceptable. It reflects lack of respect for fellow citizens both by Nepal’s Ministry of External Affairs that organised the flight as well as Nepal Airlines, the manager of the repatriation flights.
Why the typical delay?
I would begin by asking why was the flight delayed by over two and half hours before it finally took off?
There were no explanations provided to the passengers waiting on the tarmac.
Apples and peanuts?
The only food provided to passengers during the flight was apple, juice and peanuts. We paid nearly $2,500 each for the flight tickets: am I wrong to expect a decent meal? In fact, should they not have been provided multiple meals during that 13-hour-long flight?
If they were providing dry food to minimise contact between passengers and crew members then surely they could have procured more decent packed-food options with the amount of money they charged the evacuees?
Nightmare after touching down
My elderly parents’ experience was even worse once they touched down in Kathmandu: they had no such experience as promised to us here in Australia by the Embassy of Nepal.
The passengers were told that once they arrived in Kathmandu, they would be taken to holding centres by Nepal Army where they would rest and would be offered something to eat. Then there would be bus services to each province to take them to their respective hometowns and that they would be taken to destinations based on whether they chose to quarantine at a hotel or in government-organized quarantine facilities. My parents had opted to quarantine at a hotel, and mind you, at our own expense. After 14 days of staying in a hotel, you were told that if you had no symptoms then you could go home or alternatively if you did not show any symptoms after few days, you might be able to complete the remaining quarantine at your own home after a few days at your hotel.
We chose to take the repatriation flight because our family was convinced with this management assurances. Moreover, my parents were not in particularly good health and hence, they wanted to get back to their familiar environment in Nepal. They would not have probably chosen to fly without all those assurances.
And what happened upon arrival in Kathmandu?
It took nearly 5 hours to check out at the airport. Only two staff were checking out approximately 365 passengers!
Nepal Army shuttle bus turned out to be a complete lie. There were no standby transport services as promised by the Embassy. Once passengers checked out, they were left to fend for themselves and find their own mode of transport and go wherever you needed to go.
Nepal Government was nowhere to be seen.
My parents, with some other fellow-evacuees, managed to find a bus that finally agreed to take them to Pokhara.
Not even drinking water
Distressingly, no shops and restaurants were willing to serve my parents or other passengers as they had travelled from overseas. They would not even sell them drinking water.
While on the way to Pokhara, as if things were not confused enough, the bus driver was advised by Nepal Police officials to take everyone to government-organised quarantine centre regardless of the form that was completed here stating that my parents and others wanted to quarantine at a hotel.
What was the purpose of behind filling up that form here at the Embassy then?
Grateful for the flight but no thanks are due to the traumatic experience
While we are thankful that the Embassy of Nepal managed to arrange a flight for those desperate to go home, experience such as this has caused more trauma and unnecessary stress.
Both Embassy and Airlines were aware that people on the first flight were the ones with serious health issues and those needing regular medical attention. We could have organized better food for the flight and transport from the airport if we were made aware of it in advance. Total duration of the trip from Sydney to Pokhara was almost 40 hours.
Disgraceful behaviour of Tribhuvan International Airport staff
The behavior displayed at the airport by airport staff was nothing but absolute disgrace. Passengers were told to put their documents on the dirty floor and the staff then would come and take the paper to review.
It was an experience that we never wish to have again. Lack of direction, lack of communication, lack of authority, total negligence and completely incompetence in managing such situations and lack of knowledge is all I saw during the journey.
I really wish there was one good thing to talk about this trip other than being able to go home but unfortunately there’s none. It was one miserable trip my parents wish nobody else would ever have to go through.
It is noteworthy that all passengers that were on that flight had to have a coronavirus test with negative result before they were even allowed in the flight.
Writer is a Brisbane-based young entrepreneur of Nepalese origin. In sharing this story about his parents’ travel experience to Nepal, he intends to make any future travellers be better-prepared and better-organised.