On Saturday, the UAE started bringing hundreds of residents stuck outside the country back home.
The Emirates took the unprecedented step of sealing all ports of entry to everyone except UAE nationals on March 19.
The move was to stem the spread of Covid-19, and was replicated by a number of other countries across the globe, but it left many people stranded overseas.
Until now, returning flights were organised in conjunction with authorities and embassies.
But on May 9, UAE residents boarded the first bookable repatriation flight of many more to come.
Obtaining a seat and booking a flights is not as simple as logging on to Emirates or Etihad's website.
So what is the process?
The National explains.
What is the first step in returning to the UAE?
Any resident stranded abroad must apply for permission to return through the Twajudi service for residents, which the UAE rolled out in late March to assist people stuck overseas.
That involves entering their personal details, including their profession, Emirates ID number and location.
Some have spoken about difficulties registering online, having either received repeated error messages or been unable to complete the application.
What happens next?
Passengers should wait for approval.
Once it is granted, residents receive an ICA approval code and letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Anyone travelling back to the UAE must have these documents. Proof of residency is also required. All visas that expired after March 1 were extended until the end of December 2020.
Some who applied received approval fairly early on, but had to wait until flights resumed, which happened on May 9.
Others say they have waited weeks without receiving a reply.
Key workers including teachers, healthcare staff and airline workers were placed on a priority list, as were university students separated from their families.
However, some parents have complained they have not as yet been able to obtain permission for their children to return.
What do they do with the code once they receive it?
Etihad agents require it to be able to book repatriation flights.
Emirates allowed travellers to book their own flights online, but passengers must show a letter of approval at check-in.
Those who do not will be denied boarding.
Where can someone with permission go to book flights to the UAE?
Emirates is operating inbound flights from Germany and the UK, while Etihad offers a schedule from 12 destinations. It is:
- Amsterdam: Wednesdays and Saturdays from April 29 until May 30.
- Barcelona: Sundays and Thursdays from May 14 until May 31.
- Brussels: Fridays and Sundays throughout May.
- Frankfurt: Sundays throughout May.
- London: Wednesdays and Saturdays until May 30.
- Zurich: Fridays and Sundays until May 31.
- New York: Friday, May 15
- Chicago: Friday, May 15
- Jakarta: Thursdays until May 28.
- Kuala Lumpur: Saturdays until May 28.
- Manila: Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays from May 12 until May 29.
- Melbourne: Fridays and Tuesdays until May 26.
- Seoul: Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays until May 30.
- Singapore: Tuesdays until May 26.
- Tokyo: Mondays and Thursdays from May 18 until May 28
How easy is it to book a flight once you have the ICA code?
It is fairly easy, according to some who have already been through the process.
One UAE resident currently in the Philippines shared his story on the UAE Expats Stuck Abroad Facebook page.
He spoke to a customer service agent at Etihad, who asked if he had obtained pre-approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Once he provided evidence, including the booking code and letter, the agent requested his previous flight details and rebooked him on a flight leaving Manila on May 13.
“He also said that I need all the necessary documents in order to check-in in the said flight,” said the resident from the Philippines.
“I hope this post will have some ray of hope to you guys. Do not lose faith.”