A pair of grandparents who became stuck in Dubai airport for almost two months after flights were grounded globally were able to return to their home country of India on Thursday.
Amal Mandal, 75, and his wife Tripti boarded a flight to New Delhi after spending 53 days in a hotel in Dubai International Airport. Their flight was arranged as part of a major repatriation drive to facilitate outgoing flights for expatriates who wish to return home.
The Mandals had been in the airport since March 21, when bad weather delayed the last flight to India before the South Asian country imposed a nationwide lockdown and suspended air travel to contain the spread of Covid-19. The couple were transiting in Dubai after visiting their daughter and grandchildren in Australia.
"I will not forget the response of the people of Dubai. I felt like I was living in my own house," Mr Mandal told The National.
“Until my last day, I will not forget how people have helped and looked after us. I want to come back when this is coronavirus is all over so I can meet the people I have spoken to on the phone.”
He said he was grateful to the Dubai government, airport, hotel staff and Indian consular officials.
“We are tense travelling at this time also because we don’t know exactly when we will reach our own home. But we are happy we are finally going back.”
On arrival to India’s capital, the Mandals could be taken to a facility to quarantine for 14 days or be placed on a domestic flight to Gujarat, where their hometown of Vadodara is located.
India shut down domestic flights and rail travel during the lockdown.
The national carrier, Air India, said on Thursday that it would operate special ferry flights for passengers repatriated under the Vande Bharat or Salute India mission from hub airports to their home states.
No information was available when direct flights would start from either the UAE or New Delhi to the Mandals' home state.
Vipul, India’s consul general in Dubai, said passengers were given information about the flights so they could make a choice regarding travel.
“They have been stuck here for so long and so we left the decision to them,” he said.
“There are so many people who want to go back and everyone has an emergency that they need to attend so we are doing our best to help.”
The Mandals tested negative for coronavirus in three tests conducted by Dubai airport authorities over the past two months.
“This tension of coronavirus can eat away at you so it was good to test negative,” Ms Mandal said.
“On our journey we will remember all the people in Dubai who took such good care of us.”
The grandparents were among at least 19 passengers staying in the Dubai airport hotel. Several of the travellers have since returned home.
More than 15,000 Indians from around the world have returned to their home country on over 70 flights since repatriations began last week.
More than 30,000 Indians will return home from 31 countries on 149 flights in the second phase that begins on May 16.