When Simranjit Singh Ahluwalia, an 18-year-old student from Pune on his way to New Zealand, landed in Singapore on September 1, he found himself in a nightmarish situation. He was stuck in a foreign country, with no money to buy an onward ticket, and was facing the possibility of being sent back to India.
Simranjit, who had secured admission in a flying school in New Zealand, had booked a Qantas Airways flight from Mumbai to New Zealand, which had two layovers, at Singapore and in Sydney. The first leg of his journey began at 11 am on September 1, when he boarded a Jet Airways flight to Singapore, which is the local partner airline for Qantas Airways, said the student’s mother Inderjeet Kaur Ahluwalia.”After completing his Class XII, my son wanted to be a commercial pilot. He got accepted in a flight school at Air Hawkes, in New Zealand. His annual fee is over Rs 36 lakh… I took a loan to fund the course. When we had booked the flight via a travel agent, we were not informed that there was any requirement of a transit visa for his layover in Australia. At the time of taking off from Mumbai, when the three boarding passes were issued, neither did the airline tell him that any kind of visa was needed, nor did they ask him about it. He is a teenager, how is he supposed to know these things,” said Ahluwalia, a junior college professor and a single mother.
“When he called me from the Singapore airport to say that he has been held back and they weren’t allowing him to take the onward flight to Sydney, and they had stamped his boarding pass, which had already been issued, with ‘No Transit Visa’, I was in shock. My only son was in a foreign country, with no help… I felt so helpless,” she said.
Ahluwalia said her friends and family tried to contact Jet Airways over the phone, and even tweeted the airline’s official Twitter account, but received no response.
Simran Singh, a family member, said Qantas Airlines replied to the family via personal message on Twitter, asking for the flight details. “They later told us that it is not an airline requirement but enforced by immigration, and it should have been communicated by the travel agent. But they also said we were correct in assuming that Jet Airways should not have let the passenger board the first flight. We have not received any reply from Jet airways till now,” he said.
Faced with the possibility of her son being sent back to India, Ahluwalia said she had to borrow a friend’s credit card, since she didn’t have enough balance in her bank account. She then booked a ticket that cost over Rs 80,000 for a direct flight from Singapore to New Zealand.
“Since it was a direct flight, there was no question of a transit visa for Australia. But his baggage has already been sent ahead to New Zealand and now I hope he gets it in time. This situation is completely new to us and… we have contacted Jet Airways. We will look for all options available to us once my son reaches his flight school safely,” said the Pimpri resident.
Ahluwalia’s family members have also tweeted about the issue to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Despite repeated attempts, officials from Jet Airways were not available for comment.