NAC flies to Brisbane with stranded tourists

Kathmandu, April 1

Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) aircraft departed for Australia for the first time today carrying a total of 257 stranded passengers, including Australians and New Zealanders.

On October 1, Nepal had signed its 40th air services agreement with Australia, paving way for the carriers of both the countries to fly to and from the major airports of both countries.

The NAC’s flight that took off at 5:30pm from Tribhuvan International Airport will stop at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for refuelling and from there it will fly to Brisbane, said Deepu Jwarchan, flight operation director of NAC.

“Except for the passengers, there are six cabin crew members on board and the flight will return on Thursday at around 11:00pm,” he added.

The Australian Embassy had chartered the NAC flight to evacuate its nationals who were stranded in the country due to the nationwide lockdown to prevent and control the spread of coronavirus.

Earlier, the embassy had negotiated with Qatar Airways for the repatriation flight. The embassy had also given a tentative date of March 30 for the flight.

However, owing to the expensive airfare quoted by the airline, the embassy dropped the plan, an embassy official informed.

Qatar Airways had sought around $2,300 per person for the chartered flight — significantly higher than the $1,800 per passenger being charged by NAC.

On a Facebook page titled ‘Australians stranded in Nepal’, a user named Lisa Edwards wrote: “As this is a commercial flight, embassy is evacuating only those who are ready to pay. Others who don’t have the money to get home have to stay back here.

Meanwhile, few others are staying here willingly. We don’t have (any) other option (than) to pay despite the expensive airfare.”

Some took to the social media page to criticise the high airfare.

Marc Placek wrote: “The cost of an average return flight to Kathmandu is $900? Some of us will not have any trouble with the high opportunistic cost but there are families and younger travellers on tight budgets that don’t have the resources to pay this up front.”

As per FareCompare, average price for round trip flights from Kathmandu to Brisbane is $988.

As the flight was arranged by a travel agency, only passengers who were able to pay upfront were evacuated today. Although involving a travel agency is not mandatory for chartered flights, NAC gave the ticketing responsibility to Bon Travel and Tours Pvt Ltd on the recommendation of the embassy.

The embassy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed that Bon Travel is the embassy’s official travel agency. The official also said that there will be no other such repatriation flight to Australia.

The Bon Travel officials did not respond to repeated calls and texts seeking comment.

After the lockdown, the embassy has also been coordinating with the Nepal government to rescue Australians from different parts of the country to be brought to the capital city.

According to the Department of Immigration, a total of 5,218 tourists from Australia had arrived in the country till February.

Each year, around 40,000 Australians travel to Nepal.

A version of this article appears in e-paper of The Himalayan Times on April 02, 2020.