Stranded Hanoians in HCMC yearn for flight home

By Hai Hien, Quynh Nguyen   October 13, 2021 | 08:40 pm GMT+7
"I won't be able to return for now since tickets are expensive and difficult to buy," Nguyen Van Dat texted his wife in Hanoi after five months apart.

Dat is a 30-year-old Hanoian. He went to HCMC a few years ago to work for a construction company while his wife and three kids remained in the capital. Before the pandemic broke out, he regularly flew between the cities. But due to travel restrictions, he hasn't been able to see his wife since April.

"The most important thing is that my wife is about to give birth to another baby and I really want to be by her side at the moment," he said.

When Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi eased their strict Covid restrictions earlier this month, Dat and his wife thought they would be reunited in just matter of days. But it turned out things would be more complicated than they thought.

Passengers at HCMCs Tan Son Nhat International Airport on Oct. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Passengers at HCMC's Tan Son Nhat International Airport on Oct. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Passenger trains had not resumed operations at the time. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam held a consultation meeting with 19 provinces and cities on reopening domestic flights on Oct. 1.

The ray of hope had not yet glimmered for Dat when he received the news that Hanoi had not yet agreed to reopen Noi Bai.

One week later, Deputy PM Le Van Thanh agreed to pilot the reopening of some domestic routes starting Oct. 10, including Hanoi. Dat immediately called to tell his wife the good news.

But once again he was disappointed when ticket offices told him there would be one flight operating at 50 percent capacity bound for Hanoi. So, the success of booking a ticket is very small while airfares are costly.

Dat is not the only one struggling to buy tickets to Hanoi.

Vu Ngan Ha, 27, from District 4, has been trying to get to the capital for the past few months since her wedding day is right around the corner.

Last Sunday, Ha also searched everywhere to book a plane ticket but couldn't find any. While airfares increase by the day, Hung, Ha's fiance, suggested waiting for the train service to resume.

But she disagreed since "staying on the train for two days means there is a high risk of infection."

Ha and Hung are both Hanoians but went to HCMC three years ago to start a business. The couple planned to have their wedding in the capital in early September. But due to the pandemic, the wedding date was pushed back to the beginning of November.

She said her mother told her to get married this year at any cost. Or else, she would have to wait another two years for purposes of luck and happiness.

Passengers check in before boarding at the domestic terminal of Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport on Oct. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Passengers check in before boarding at the domestic terminal of Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, Oct. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

In addition to the difficulty of buying tickets and skyrocketing airfares, both the couple and Dat were shocked when Hanoi required people arriving from HCMC by air to be isolated at centralized quarantine facilities or at one of 20 designated hotels for seven days and be tested, all at their own cost. The lowest price would be VND1.3 million ($57.15) per day.

"I don't have enough money to pay for centralized quarantine," Dat said.

During the outbreak, his business lay stagnant while he still had to pay VND30 million each month in rent. Beside not having enough money, Dat also did not want to stay in the isolation facility for fear of cross-infection.

This regulation has forced some people to cancel tickets, including Duc Sinh, 45, director of a retail and food supply business.

On the evening of Oct. 10, a day before his flight, he received three consecutive messages from the airline about the new regulation.

"I called nearly 20 hotels on the list for quarantined people, but none of them had space left," Sinh said.

Sinh added that besides returning to Hanoi, he also planned to meet clients to discuss a new business project. But with the quarantine mandate, he said it was no different from working online and that his main goal of traveling thousands of kilometers to the capital was to meet his business partners.

Fortunately, those who longed for Hanoi like Ha or Dat saw light at the end of the tunnel when on the afternoon of Oct. 11, Hanoi People's Committee scrapped its quarantine mandate for passengers from HCMC.

Accordingly, Hanoi lifted its quarantine mandate after reaching an agreement with the Ministry of Transport under which only one round trip would operate a day from Oct. 10-20, with flights carrying only 50 percent of their passenger capacity.

Passengers from HCMC would not have to undergo centralized quarantine for a week when they travel to Hanoi and will only be required to monitor their health at home for seven days.

However, the reduction in the number of passengers and frequency of flights to Hanoi means the opportunity to buytickets grew even more difficult, especially for low-income workers.

"The demand is high while tickets are few, making airfares skyrocket," Dat lamented.

He contacted the ticket offices again but as greeted with the message: "Flights in the period before and after the three days you selected (October 12) have been sold out."

With ticket prices escalating, and unable to choose a return date, Ha give up on returning to her hometown.

Ha said after the third time of reconsideration, her parents decided to push the wedding to early January 2022.

As for Dat, his promise to return home has not been fulfilled.

"I will return eventually. We will meet again soon," he told his children.

 
 
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