Travel professional Ashwini Sonthalia on the collaboration with Singapore Airlines to take Indians stranded in Australia back home.
Indian Link : Following the successful Vande Bharat repatriation flights, an initiative of well-known travel professionals Gaura Travel and award-winning airline Singapore Airlines, charter flights have now been introduced. Ashwini, tell us how this came about?
Ashwini Sonthalia: It all started with the announcement by Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Civil Aviation Minister, that India will now allow private airlines to operate repatriation flights. After this announcement, we at Gaura Travel then got in touch with Singapore Airlines and worked on a contract with them to run such flights. Concurrently, we also contacted the High Commission of India in Canberra to seek their permission. Encouraged by the responses from both Singapore Airlines and the Indian High Commission, we created a whole new website in order to facilitate the distribution of tickets for these repatriation flights. On 4 July, we put these tickets on sale.
IL: So what is the procedure? What are the dates and costs, and how can tickets be booked?
A: The departuredates are 22July for the Sydney to Delhi trip and 23 July for Melbourne to Delhi. The cost is $1895 for Economy & $3300 for Business class. Economy class for the Melbourne to Delhi flight is already sold out, with more than 100 people on the waiting list. All interested to book can simply visit https://charter.gauratravel.com.au and all information including frequently asked questions are there. If anyone has any further questions, they can call Gaura Travel on 1300 FLY INDIA (1300 359 463). Our customer service line is available 24/7.
IL: What should someone do after they visit the Gaura Travel website?
A: After visiting our website, the whole procedure follows a simple process. Read all the terms and conditions first. Then, if interested in reserving a seat, make a booking with a 5 % deposit. This deposit is refundable, in case the flight is not full and/or we have to cancel for any reason.
The next step involves us sending your details to the Government of India for approval when the flight is full.
Once you are approved by the Indian Government, we will request your full payment.
After the full payment is made by you, we will seek a NOC from the local Indian Consulate. If this is successful, e-tickets will be issued to you; after this, pack up your bags and be ready for travelling!
IL: On the day of the flight, what should travellers do?
A: All travellers must arrive 5 hours prior to departure and ensure they have completed an indemnity form, which will be provided to them in the email containing their e-ticket. Once in the airport, each traveller’s temperature will be checked by a medical practitioner; those cleared by the onsite medical team will be allowed to proceed further for check-in. After that, the procedure will be exactly the same as a normal check-in. On the flight, Personal Protective Equipment will be provided by Singapore Airlines (the cost for this is already included in the ticket price).
IL: Tell us about your firm Gaura Travel. What prompted you to offer this service?
A: Gaura Travel is a travel agency in Australia that has served over 100,000 customers and sold over 1,000,000 flights over the past 12 years. Since May, we have been getting calls daily to see if we can book on Vande Bharat flights; every time we had to say ‘It can only be booked directly with Air India.’ So, as soon as the Government of India allowed other airlines to operate such flights, we wanted to try and help as many distressed Indians are still stranded in Australia. This is in line with our motto, ‘Your best way home’.