Two Dubai residents travelled through five cities over four days for 40 hours to get from southern India to the UAE, via London.
Ananth Ramakrishnan, 63, and his daughter Priyesha Ananth, 19, travelled on three carriers on their laborious journey back to the Emirates last week.
The two got stuck in India after flights were suspended in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The pair have now reunited with Jaya, Mr Ramakrishnan’s wife and Ms Ananth’s mother.
“There was a lot of tension and apprehension in the planning,” said Mr Ramakrishnan, who works with an information technology support company.
At present, India is yet to resume regular passenger flights after grounding flights four months ago.
An announcement of limited flights being operated between India and the UAE was made this week but tickets quickly sold out and several flights were cancelled.
Desperate to return to jobs and family, some UAE residents stuck in India ended up spending thousands of dirhams pooling in with strangers to charter private jets or planning lengthy travel routes like the Ramakrishnan family.
The trip cost about 100,000 rupees (Dh4,900) each – roughly half the amount passengers have paid for a seat on a small jet.
Mr Ramakrishnan clocked 40 hours on road and during air travel beginning on July 8, when he drove from a small village in southern India, Kinathukadavu, to Coimbatore, where he took a plane to meet his daughter in Chennai. The pair then travelled to Mumbai after a stopover in Hyderabad, took a flight to London and then doubled back to arrive in Dubai on July 11.
The 10-hour journey to London on a packed Air India flight required them to wear full personal protective gear.
Exhausted but triumphant, they are relieved to be back in the UAE.
“I needed to get back to Dubai. We decided we had to take the plunge as soon as restrictions eased in July around the village I was in,” said Mr Ramakrishnan.
“My wife was alone for months, my daughter was alone in another city fending for herself so it was better for us to come back together."
When India closed its borders, Mr Ramakrishnan was visiting his 85-year-old mother in Kinathukadavu village after a business trip from Dubai.
His daughter had been studying in Bangalore but travelled to the family’s flat in Chennai after her architecture college closed and moved to classes online.
For months, the family waited for air travel out of India to resume but then heard about a relative who returned to the Emirates via London.
Mr Ramakrishnan and Ms Ananth could travel to the UK, having previously applied for five-year visit visas to see his eldest daughter who studies there.
The journey took two hours to plan over a Zoom call with Mr Ramakrishnan and his teenage daughter in India, his wife in Dubai and elder daughter in the UK.
They booked tickets from Mumbai to London and then London to Dubai first before working backwards to reserve the domestic flights.
Unable to get connecting flights on the same day, they booked hotel stays near Mumbai and London airports.
Their plan was fraught with uncertainty due to frequent flight cancellations and several Indian cities reimposing lockdown measures as a result of rising Covid-19 cases.
To add to their worries, many cities in India require a special electronic permit for road travel with restrictions on commuting for people aged over 60, such as Mr Ramakrishnan.
Ms Ananth was unsure her father would even make the first one-hour plane trip to reach her so they could travel together to the UAE.
“I kept hearing so many different things about the rules changing from different people,” she said.
“It was a relief to finally see him. All through our journey I barely slept. I was so exhausted and it was only on the last Emirates flight to Dubai that I actually crashed.”
They met her elder sister for a short “socially distanced” meeting in London before taking the morning flight to Dubai last Saturday.
The pair also had to navigate each airline’s rules with face shields compulsory on their Indigo flight to Mumbai.
The Air India flight from Mumbai to London was the most difficult. They were each assigned a middle seat and had to wear full personal protective gear, including overalls, gloves, face shields, masks and even shoe covers.
The Emirates flight back to Dubai was not as busy and they were able to each stretch out across four seats.
“When we got on the Emirates flight, I felt like I was home,” said Mr Ramakrishnan, who has lived in the UAE for close to 30 years.
“I had kept my fingers crossed right until we boarded.”
About 160,000 people from the Emirates have repatriated to India.
On landing, the Ramakrishnan family were tested for Covid-19 and have since received the all-clear. Despite this, they have remained in self-imposed isolation for at least a week, staying in separate rooms in their home in Karama.
The family plan to celebrate with a group hug on Saturday, when their self-imposed quarantine ends.
“I have been anxious about my husband’s health because he is diabetic and also due to his age,” said Ms Ananth’s mother.
“We are being extra watchful to be sure there are absolutely no symptoms. It has been a tense period for all of us and it is a relief that it will soon be over.”