Disappointment as Tet reunion hopes dashed by pricey flight tickets

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Overseas Vietnamese delighted with the resumption of international flights are disappointed to find their Tet reunion hopes dashed by high flight ticket prices.

Khai Van, who has lived in Taiwan for 11 years now, planned to return home and reunite with his family during the upcoming Tet or Lunar New Year holiday, which peaks on February 1. He had not been able to celebrate the nation’s most important festival with loved ones last year and was very keen on doing so this year.

“I was happy to hear that the government has agreed to resume regular commercial flights to enable overseas Vietnamese to return home for Tet, but the announcement was quite close to the holiday, making it difficult to book air tickets,” said 31-year-old Van.

Tet, which falls early February next year, sees millions of migrant workers and overseas Vietnamese return to their homes for family reunions before Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Last week, the Vietnamese government approved the resumption of commercial flights to nine destinations, including Taiwan’s Taipei City, starting January 1. It directed health authorities to draft new entry guidelines for overseas Vietnamese arriving by regular international flights. Under these guidelines, overseas Vietnamese would have to self-monitor their health at home, instead of undergoing a seven-day centralized quarantine period.

While entry and quarantine regulations have been eased, expensive air tickets have become a major stumbling block. Van said the cost of a combo package repatriation flight departing early next year, as per travel firms’ websites, ranged from VND30-50 million ($1,304-2,172) per person.

Before the Covid outbreak, Van used to book air tickets to Vietnam around August or September for less than VND9 million. If he wanted to return home in December, he still had the opportunity to book a ticket for just VND12-15 million.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese authorities require foreign arrivals to undergo a 14-day quarantine period upon arriving on the island. Van is worried that his work could be affected due to such quarantine requirements.

After many days of consideration, Van decided to stay on in Taiwan and return home to his family at a more convenient time when tickets were not as expensive..

Huong Giang, in the final year of a master’s program at a university in Northampton, England, has also decided to wait until the second quarter of next year to fly home.

Looking for information about commercial flights during the Tet seasson, Giang was shocked to learn that air fares for one-way flights to Vietnam could cost up to about VND55 million. At such prices, international students like her with limited financial budgets have to consider if they can return home or not.

The upcoming Tet also coincides with her school’s exam; therefore, Giang plans to celebrate Tet in the U.K. with the Vietnamese students union as she did earlier.

Tuyet Le, 68, a Vietnamese American woman living in New Jersey, is desperate to return to Vietnam to visit her relatives after three years, but cancelled her plans because of limited flights and expensive air tickets.

Tuyet said her friend who had to return to Vietnam in November urgently had to pay about $5,000 for her ticket.

With high travel demand for Tet and limited flights, the cost of air tickets for commercial flights from the U.S to Vietnam would be very expensive, so she would find a suitable time to visit home later, Tuyet said.

Instead of returning to Vietnam, she and her family plan to travel at the end of January next year to southern California where there is a strong Vietnamese community.

Vietnam grounded all international flights in March last year, allowing only Vietnamese citizens, foreign experts, investors, and highly-skilled workers coming in on special flights.

Aviation and tourism experts have repeatedly called on the government to resume international flights with countries and territories that have managed high vaccination rates and good pandemic control to speed up economic and tourism recovery and enable overseas Vietnamese to return to their homeland for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations.

From January 1, regular flights are scheduled to resume to San Francisco or Los Angeles (the U.S.), Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Vientiane (Laos), Beijing/Guangzhou (China), Tokyo (Japan), Seoul (South Korea), and Taipei (Taiwan).

The aviation industry is still waiting for the Ministry of Health’s official entry guidelines on foreigners arriving by regular international flights before granting flight slots for different carriers.