A major expatriate association in the country has dismissed allegations that it has been involved in the sale of air tickets to passengers and was cashing in on the Covid-19 crisis.
Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam (BKS), in a written statement to the GDN, said it was only helping people stranded in India due to recent travel restrictions.
The club also said it was offering the facility in collaboration with two travel agents, Bahrain International Travels and Al Amal Travels.
The GDN yesterday reported that the Association of Bahrain Tours and Travel Agents (ABTTA) has sought a probe into the involvement of clubs and associations following the unavailability of Gulf Air tickets despite flights opening to and from India.
Local travel agents alleged that tickets from the national carrier were purchased ‘in bulk’ by one major club, with many on social media pointing the finger at BKS.
The samajam, however, denied purchasing or selling tickets.
“As part of our assistance to the Indian community during the pandemic, we had facilitated inbound flights to support people who were on the verge of losing their jobs due to the expiry of visa or residence permits,” BKS said.
“We haven’t sold or purchased any tickets.”
The samajam said it had received around 1,700 requests well before the two countries announced a travel ‘bubble agreement’ and around 800 people had already arrived in Bahrain through six inbound Gulf Air flights.
“Gulf Air is expected to bring the remaining 900 passengers on its upcoming flights,” it added.
BKS added that five of these flights came before the travel agreement was signed, while one flight landed on Tuesday.
The GDN reported earlier that the air bubble agreement, aimed at a safe travel corridor, became operational on September 11. As part of the agreement, national carriers of both countries are now permitted to operate a specified number of flights carrying passengers within a set framework.
The agreement came as a relief to almost 70 travel agents who cater to the community plus walk-in customers, who were heavily impacted by the pandemic.
However, they claimed they were “shocked” to see that all Gulf Air flights from September 14 to 18 (India to Bahrain) had been ‘converted to chartered flights’ for passengers who had paid money at the BKS.
However, BKS claimed that the issue was a simple misunderstanding.
“Applications for necessary sanctions from the government authorities for bringing these passengers were filed long back and were awaiting approvals. All these arrangements were made well before the air bubble agreement.
“On September 11, Gulf Air agreed with our airline partners to carry these pending passengers on their upcoming flights.”
There were also allegations on social media that BKS was engaging in ‘commercial activities’ by selling tickets. A few passengers claimed to have received receipts with their names, passport number and destination – but not the amount paid.
However, the club denied this.
“As the amount was not meant for BKS, rather it was for Gulf Air through our travel partners, we have not issued any receipts other than priority slips,” said BKS. “Individual receipts can be arranged from the respective travel agents if required.”
The GDN learned that passengers had paid amounts ranging from BD140 to BD300 for economy and business class tickets. Some passengers also received text messages from BKS prior to departure that they needed to pay an additional BD30 as “Gulf Air had increased ticket rates” due to a reduction in seating as a result of Covid-19 safety measures.
Officials also dismissed claims that people could directly purchase Gulf Air tickets from the club describing it as a ‘false allegation’.
“Since the air bubble agreement came into place, we have completely stopped facilitating chartered flights,” the statement added.
“We had extended our help based on humanitarian grounds when normal scheduled international flights between India and Bahrain were suspended.”
Meanwhile, Indian Club president Stalin Joseph clarified that his club had not been engaged in selling tickets or chartering flights since the air bubble agreement was signed.
“It is unfortunate that the general reference to clubs and associations getting into selling tickets in bulk could be wrongly interpreted as referring to the Indian Club as well,” said Mr Joseph.
“We would like to clarify that we stopped engaging in chartered flights soon after the air bubble was announced. We informed all those who registered with us to book through travel agents.”
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