The news of India’s evacuation flight to New Zealand in early June has brought to fore equal levels of anxiety and confusion, if not more, than the actual smile and relief on the faces of thousands of potential travellers jaded by the uncertainty of endless wait for clear information.
Given the uniqueness of the current Covid-19 related situation, and both government's varied responses in respect to evacuation of the stranded travellers in both countries (India & New Zealand), there is some anxiety around finding accurate information about the flights and also to whom to hold to account for their perceived distress.
The Indian Weekender is taking upon itself to bring the information that we believe is most accurate and up to date as of today to help those stranded in India and New Zealand and wanting to avail the facility of travelling on these flights.
What is so unique about this evacuation flight coming to NZ?
The most unique aspect of this evacuation mission is that unlike most other evacuation flights which normally ferry passengers one way - from the place where they are stranded to back home - this evacuation mission offers to carry passengers both ways.
This is because the government of India has offered to take foreigners stranded in India amidst Covid-19 related border restrictions to foreign destinations wherever their flights are being sent to bring back the stranded Indian citizens.
This offers hope to few hundreds of New Zealanders or people on resident and other temporary visa holders normally living in NZ who could previously not avail the facility of NZ government’s assisted flights to come back home.
This goodwill gesture by the government of India, though, does not change the nature and the overall responsibility of the evacuation mission in any manner, which lies with the government of India and its authorities.
It is also helpful to understand the manner in which GOI has organized India’s global evacuation mission is that they have asked its national carrier - Air India - to plan and announce flights to different foreign destinations. So normally Indian missions in different foreign countries only come to picture once Air India has announced an impending flight to their host country. This explains why the flight to New Zealand took so long to be announced even when it had already twice ferried to our Trans-Tasman neighbour Australia.
This will explain why the Indian High Commission in New Zealand would not have finer details available till now about the dates, costs, destinations of incoming Air India flights.
It is largely understood that Air India had commenced operations taking into various considerations such as the number of stranded passengers to bring home or the current operability on that foreign route.
However, after the first announcement by the Air India that it plans to fly to Wellington on June 4 and fly back to New Delhi on June 7, it is expected that the Indian High Commission will be in the helms of affairs and start getting all finer details about ticketing, timing and destination of evacuation flights.
Anyway, once Air India eventually schedules a flight to a foreign destination, it's only after that scheduling does the Indian High Commission in that foreign country come into the picture and is tasked with the responsibility of coordinating with their host nation’s government authorities to get necessary clearance and make other arrangements.
If you are keen to travel from India to New Zealand on Air India flight
If you are keen to travel from India to New Zealand then it means that you normally live in New Zealand either as a citizen, or resident, or are a work visa and temporary visa holder.
It should be absolutely clear to you that the entire mission is the responsibility of the Indian government and not the NZ government.
So the responsibility to purchase tickets, and eventually travel to the international airport (such as New Delhi) from where the Air India flight is most likely to depart, if you are currently stranded in regional centres like South India, or East India - is absolutely your own and not of the NZ government.
Unless there is enough will and intention within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade and NZ’s High Commission in New Delhi to once again indulge in planning and facilitating domestic travel as previously organised when arranging the return of New Zealanders on their own government-assisted flights in April.
As of now, there is no such intent, as the Indian Weekender was told by the spokesperson of the MFAT as late as on Monday, May 18, that the responsibility of this evacuation mission is with the government of India and all such enquiries be directed to the Indian High Commission to NZ in Wellington.
However, people stranded in India keen to travel to NZ can still avail the facility of Air India operated flights to travel back home as long as they meet eligibility criteria.
Can work visa holders buy a ticket on this flight - Check your eligibility to enter NZ
The New Zealand border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand citizens and residents returning to New Zealand can travel to New Zealand and do not need any formal exemption.
However, all other temporary visa holders including work visa holders will have to first check their eligibility and get an exemption from Immigration NZ before making any travel arrangements.
If you are a work visa holder, it will be your responsibility to first get an exemption from INZ before you buy tickets for Air India flight.
When, where and how can I buy tickets to travel to NZ?
You can buy the ticket on http://www.airindia.in/Flight-Notice.htm
Air India is making tickets available to foreign destinations on this link once after they have made an announcement about the schedule of a flight to that particular destination here http://www.airindia.in/images/pdf/Web-schedule-phase-2-complete-17-may-1800hrs-converted-3.pdf
The information on that link tells that currently outbound bookings are opened for only US/UK/France/Germany/Australia/Italy (Rome) /Bangladesh /Indonesia and Singapore.
Clearly, New Zealand is not on that list yet which has been opened for tickets despite having a flight-schedule announced for June 4 - So the best advice is to wait and keep an eye as and when tickets are made available.
If you are keen to travel from New Zealand to India on Air India flight
If you are an Indian citizen currently stranded in New Zealand then it would pay to keep an eye on the link http://www.airindia.in/images/pdf/Web-schedule-phase-2-complete-17-may-1800hrs-converted-3.pdf along with checking with the office of the Indian High Commission in Wellington and the Consulate of India in Auckland.
It would also be helpful to be aware of all terms and conditions before taking a return flight to India that includes bearing the full cost of a compulsory fourteen days quarantine on arrival in India.