Pakistani expats, pilgrims struggle to rebook flights

March 03, 2019

Irfan Mohammed

Saudi Gazette

Hundreds of Pakistanis including expatriate vacationers and Umrah pilgrims have been struggling to reschedule their travel bookings after flight operations to the country resumed after a brief suspension amid mounting tension with neighboring India following last month’s terrorist attack in Kashmir.

Travel agents across the Kingdom are having a tough time updating travel plans for their passengers.

Also, many Pakistanis who were spending their vacation back home are struggling to rebook their flights to the Kingdom with some of them having their exit-re-entry visas about to expire.

On Friday, Pakistan partially reopened its airspace, allowing international flights to operate to and from Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar. On Sunday, it resumed flights to Lahore, where a significant number of people travel from the Kingdom.

Pakistan closed its airspace on Feb. 27 amid escalating tensions with India after the Indian Air Force carried out strikes on what it claimed to be terrorist bases inside Pakistan.

The flights from the Kingdom remained affected with thousands of passengers having to reschedule their flights.

The Haj and Umrah Ministry hosted the stranded pilgrims in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah during the closure period but the Umrah operators faced the uphill task of clearing the backlog of passengers.

The passengers started approaching travel agencies and airline offices for further information after media reports said flight operations to Pakistan resumed. However, the reservation systems of major airlines were not accepting immediate bookings for the next couple of days, said a travel agent.

All major airlines that operate to Pakistan have offered full refund to their passengers, but the vast majority of passengers were not in a mood to opt for the refund and insisted on rescheduling their bookings at the earliest possible opportunity, according to travel agencies.

New bookings would cost more and this was one of the reasons why the passengers were not opting for a refund, they noted.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the country’s flag carrier, has pressed wider aircraft into service in Riyadh and Jeddah sectors to accommodate more passengers in a bid to clear the backlog of passengers.

Most passengers from the Riyadh sector will be cleared on Monday when the PIA flight will leave to Islamabad, sources added.

PIA and Saudi Arabian Airlines according priority to Umrah pilgrims and passengers whose visas were about to expire.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered PIA to give priority to the passengers stranded in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Pakistan’s Aviation and Privatisation Minister Muhammad Mian Soomro said in a statement that Prime Minister Khan had given instructions to facilitate stranded passengers on a priority, “especially, those who are stuck in Saudi Arabia and Gulf as they may be facing a shortage of funds and expiry of their visas.»

Following the instructions, PIA chief Air Marshal (retired) Arshad Malik assured the government that every possible effort will be made to clear the backlog of passengers within the shortest possible time.

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