ISLAMABAD/LONDON: The UK government on Friday announced the schedule for chartered flights run by Qatar Airways which will repatriate around 2,500 British citizens stuck in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has also announced daily flights from Pakistan to UK but has not announced the exact schedule yet.
The chartered Qatar Airways flights from Islamabad to London will run on, April 21, 22, and 23, the flights from Islamabad to Manchester on April 24, 25, 26, and 27, while the flights from Lahore to London on April 22 and 24. A flight from Lahore to Manchester will run on April 26.
The flights to and from the UK by PIA are expected to begin from April 19. PIA has announced that it will operate flights from Lahore and Islamabad to London, Manchester and Birmingham.
According to the British High Commission, the chartered flights are for UK travellers who normally reside in the UK and their direct dependents with a preference of seats given to those deemed vulnerable.
Earlier, the British High Commission in Islamabad had been working with PIA to bring back stranded Britons in Pakistan but after multiple flight cancellations, exorbitant ticket prices and a lack of coordination, the British government had decided to avail the services of Qatar Airways to provide chartered flights.
In a video message released on Twitter, Dr Christian Turner, UK’s High Commissioner in Pakistan announced that the flights would cost approximately £527. Previously, flights were being sold for over £1500 by unscrupulous travel agents.
Flights operated by PIA will have a cap of £525 for a single journey to and from the UK. This is less than the initial cap of £750 previously announced by Zulfiqar Bukhari, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis for PIA flights.
“I know how stressful and difficult the suspension of Pakistan’s international flights has been, leaving so many British travellers unable to get home. There has been a huge effort from the teams across the Pakistan network to help people to return to the UK,” Turner said.
He added, “And while we have got over 7,500 people back to the UK already, these charter flights will help us to get thousands more back home next week.”
According to earlier figures provided by the British High Commission, more than 7,000 Britons were stranded in Pakistan but these chartered flights will only accommodate 2,500 people. What will happen to the remaining stranded citizens is unclear.
While the British government had announced chartered flights to rescue stranded Britons from Peru, China and India, the same facility was not given to Britons stuck in Pakistan. Many of those stuck are elderly without medication including other vulnerable people who have an immediate need to be repatriated back to their country.
PIA’s decision to start flights to the UK was taken after rounds of discussions between CEO PIA and UK High Commissioner to Pakistan were held under the directions of Minister of Aviation, Ghulam Sarwar khan.
A PIA spokesman confirmed the development saying, “Demand is high and being the national carrier we have to step forward in the time of the need.” He further urged people intending to travel to or from UK to please immediately contact PIA offices, contact centres and PIA websites to secure their bookings, whether fresh or old ones to be re-adjusted.
There are over 400 stuck Pakistanis in the UK who are in desperate need of being repatriated to Pakistan and have faced multiple flight cancellations. Many of the passengers are old, vulnerable and have run out of money. Previously, there were left with little to no support and assurances about the next flights but the decision to reopen flights have been welcomed by stranded Pakistanis.
A Pakistani student who is stuck in the UK said, “It is good news that flights will reopen but what is the guarantee that they will not be cancelled again? I have bought a ticket twice and my flight got cancelled both times.”
“When will PIA announce the schedule and will it abide by the schedule this time?” The student who requested anonymity asked the national carrier.