Despite going through several uncertainties regarding acquiring plane tickets and Covid-19 certificates over the last few days, all 302 Saudi-bound Bangladeshi passengers were able to leave Dhaka on flight SV-802 of Saudi Airlines early today.
The flight, scheduled to leave at 12:30am, was delayed by six minutes, but the 302 passengers were happy as none of them were left behind.
Md Shahidullah who came to Bangladesh on a holiday and remained stranded here for seven months due to the coronavirus outbreak, finally felt relaxed after getting the printed copy of Covid-19 negative certificate at the eleventh hour from the airport.
Although this meant he could not go back to say goodbye to his family, he found solace in the fact that all the suffering and tension surrounding the formalities before the journey had finally ended.
All passengers were provided with printed copies of their Covid-19 certificates from the expatriates' welfare desk at the airport.
Airport authorities were prepared so that none of the passengers face any delay, said Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, director, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
"As none of them were able to bring along the printed copy of Covid-19 certificate in such a short time, we provided those from the expatriates' welfare desk. That's why the flight got delayed by six minutes," he added.
After receiving the copies, the passengers completed the formalities for immigration and boarding.
Regarding the health guideline of carrying maximum 260 passengers on a flight with 600 or more seats, the director said that it is applicable for commercial flights, not for special ones like the one carrying the Saudi-bound passengers.
"Such special flights can be operated with the permission of the foreign ministry," he said, adding that more such special flights will be operated soon.
The tensed passengers coming to the airport from various places of Dhaka without printed copies of their health certificates said that the airport authorities were very cooperative. Many expressed their gratitude for that.
"I cannot explain the disaster we went through over the last one week. First it was the uncertainty of getting ticket, then the struggle of getting tested for coronavirus, and then the wait for the result," reflected Arif Hosen, one of the Saudi-bound passengers.
Arif, like other passengers, had to wait till 8pm on the day of the flight to receive the text message containing his test result for coronavirus.
The relief was that they were told they wouldn't have to run to the coronavirus test centre at Mohakhali's DNCC Market to get the hard copy, rather those will be provided at the airport upon showing the soft copy.
Dr Samir Kanti Sarkar, in charge of the coronavirus test centre at Mohakhali's DNCC Market said that they started texting the results after 8pm.
"If they were to come to Mohakhali to get the printed copies, they won't be able to catch the flight," he said around 9pm last night adding that that's why they managed to provide those from the airport.
"We don't want anybody to miss the flight," he said.
The Saudi government has allowed international flights since September 15. Bangladesh then allowed Saudi Airlines to operate two flights a week and the struggle started with getting tickets. Returnees said, if they cannot go by September 30, they will lose their jobs. Expatriates protested in front of the ticket booking office of Saudi Arabian Airlines adjacent to the Sonargaon Hotel in Karwan Bazar of the capital last week.
At the request of Bangladesh to solve the problem, Saudi Arabia decided to extend the work permit (Iqama) for another 24 days.
The writer is a freelance journalist.