Airfare to different Middle Eastern countries has increased manifold in the last few months, putting an additional burden on migrant workers returning to their workplaces.
A year ago, a ticket to Saudi Arabia cost between Tk 20,000 and Tk 25,000 in most cases. But nowadays, a ticket to the same destination would cost Tk 90,000-95,000, recruiting association leaders said.
In some cases, expatriate workers end up paying Tk 1.10 lakh or more for a Biman or Saudi Arabian Airlines ticket, M Tipu Sultan, president of Recruiting Agency Oikkya Parishad, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Ticket prices to Oman, the UAE and Qatar now cost Tk 80,000 to Tk 1 lakh, up from Tk 25,000 to Tk 30,000 a year ago, according to Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) and Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (Atab).
However, ticket prices to these destinations remain affordable in several Indian cities, the associations said.
It costs around Tk 13,500 to fly to Riyadh from Kolkata and around Tk 17,000 to Dubai from Mumbai, said Fakhrul Islam, president of the Recruiting Agency Welfare Organization of Bangladesh.
A migrant worker in Nepal spends Tk 35,000 to fly to Riyadh and Tk 20,000 to go to Dubai while it costs between Tk 39,000 and Tk 43,000 to fly to Riyadh from Sri Lanka, he said.
Tipu and Fakhrul said Bangladesh risks losing its labour market in the Middle East due to the high cost of air tickets.
Both Baira and Atab leaders said it takes around five hours to fly to the Middle East. But the tickets are a lot more expensive than an 18-20-hour flight ticket to the US, which does not cost more than Tk 65,000.
Atab President Monsur Ahmed Kalam told The Daily Star that the government, especially the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab), should do something immediately.
Before the special flights to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Singapore were launched on April 17, Caab wrote to the airlines concerned, requesting that the ticket prices remain regular since restrictions on the number of passengers were relaxed and the ground handling and other relevant charges were fixed as if they were scheduled passenger flights.
About the exorbitant ticket prices, Caab Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said, "We will look into the matter."
He added that the high prices can be linked to the rise in demand.
Contacted, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Managing Director and CEO Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said his company was forced to raise the price to cope with the restrictions set by Caab.
"We can now carry only 260 passengers in a wide body plane that has 415 seats," he said. "Besides, we find only a few passengers in many flights returning to Dhaka… How will we operate flights if our operational costs are not returned?"
Tarik A Alowaidi, country manager at Saudi Arabian Airlines could not be reached for comment.
Several Saudi-bound migrant workers said they struggled a lot to pay for the air tickets.
"I had to borrow Tk 1 lakh from two relatives just to buy a ticket to Saudi Arabia," Ariful Haque told this correspondent last week.
In an inter-ministerial meeting on April 16, the government decided to operate around 100 special flights to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Singapore for a week from April 17 to fly several thousand migrant workers to their workplaces.
Bangladesh's Biman and US-Bangla and 10 foreign airlines were allowed to operate direct flights to those five countries.
The government on April 11 suspended operations of all international flights to and from Bangladesh for a week from April 14 to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Due to the extension of countrywide travel restrictions, Caab also extended the operations of special flights to April 28.
According to Baira and Atab, about 20,000 to 25,000 migrant workers were supposed to fly out to their workplaces in a week from April 14.