RIYADH: Stranded expats have welcomed the decision by the Saudi General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) to allow international carriers to fly foreign nationals out of Saudi Arabia.
Travel agencies were busy as people began booking flights out of the Kingdom following the GACA circular issued on Sunday.
The Ministry of Interior last week announced the suspension of international flights after a new variant of coronavirus was discovered in the UK.
“We had a ticket booked for Dec. 22 from Riyadh to New Delhi for my wife, but she could not take the flight as air operations were suspended,” Shamshad Alam from India told Arab News. “It was worrying for us due to my wife’s pregnancy, which is the reason for travelling to India. We want our first child to come into this world with family members.”
He thanked the Saudi government for easing the flight suspension so that foreigners could leave.
Faiz Al-Najdi, from Pakistan, also welcomed the GACA move.
“It has come as a big relief for many,” he told Arab News. “It was so because many had their vacations planned and were disappointed due to the sudden suspension of flights. Besides, many had to return home due to family emergencies and to sort out personal problems or visit their ailing parents. But following the suspension of the flights due to new virus strains, they were faced with an uncertain situation and were disappointed.”
Many expat families were in Saudi Arabia on visit visas and there were also foreigners in the country performing Umrah, he added.
“Suspension of flights had added to their worries. They all were desperately waiting for the flights to resume. Now that the flights are allowed in to take them out to their respective countries, their happiness knows no bounds.”
Dr. Shaikh Abdullah was planning to go to India with his family to meet his parents, but had to abandon his plans due to the flight suspension. “We are now happy that we can travel to our homeland,” he told Arab News.
Mohammed Aslam Jameel, a supervisor at a Riyadh travel agency, said that while there was an uptick in bookings there were still fewer people flying.
“Demand for the latest opening of flight operations is not the same as during the month of July and August,” he told Arab News. “People are not sure about inbound flight restrictions. Those who have booked flights for Christmas and the New Year have canceled and rebooked for later dates. Only those who are in dire need and willing to travel, like going for their own wedding or visiting their old parents, are mostly booking tickets.”
The GACA circular said that airlines were permitted to land in the Kingdom and depart with non-Saudi travellers while taking into account precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Cabin crew are neither permitted to leave the aircraft nor permitted to be in physical contact with ground and operations crew upon arrival.
The new variant was first detected in the UK and sparked global travel curbs in the days after its discovery. Cases of the new variant have been reported in European countries including France, Sweden and Spain. It has also been detected in South Africa, Jordan, Canada and Japan.
GACA’s instructions do not apply to countries where the mutated strain has been detected.