Md Abu Bakar, an aspirant migrant from Chattogram, had to purchase an economy class ticket of the Biman Bangladesh Airlines at an exorbitant price of Tk80,000 for flying to Dubai on 27 February.
A ticket for United Arab Emirates-bound flights would cost only Tk30,000 in pre-pandemic times, but now the price has increased more than double.
All local and foreign airlines who operate international flights have doubled or trebled ticket prices, resulting in a rise in migration costs.
High ticket prices now have added to the suffering of aspirant migrants like Abu Bakar, who are already in a tight corner with the pandemic hitting the overseas job market.
The airline authorities have linked a lower number of flights, travel restrictions, a poor number of return-ticket holders and thin movement of tourists, and obligation for maintaining standard operating procedures to an increase in their operating costs, eventually causing a hike in ticket prices.
Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director of the Biman Bangladesh Airlines, told The Business Standard, "Operating costs of airlines have increased for various reasons, including an increase of manpower in airlines amid the pandemic. We have to wait for the situation to become normal for a decrease in ticket prices."
But, ticket prices of domestic flights have almost remained the same compared to those in the pre-pandemic time, according to the airline operators.
Saudi Arabia is the largest job destination for Bangladeshi workers, where around 22 lakh Bangladeshis are working.
The Saudi labour market reopened in September last year amid the pandemic. Now, Saudi Airlines and Biman Bangladesh airlines are operating flights to Saudi Arabia.
The other airlines, who operate flights to Middle Eastern destinations are Emirate, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia, Oman Air, US Bangla Airlines, Salam Air etc.
Mahmudul Haque Piaru, proprietor of Haque International, a travel agency, said, "Currently, Bangladeshi passengers, mainly migrant workers, are going to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Oman."
A Dhaka-Riyadh economy class ticket now costs Tk70,000-80,000 from Tk30,000 in the pre-Covid period. A business class ticket's price has risen to 1.28 lakh from Tk76,000-84,000, he also said.
High ticket prices have negatively affected their profit margins, he added.
So, the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh sent a letter to Biman a month ago, asking it to decrease ticket prices.
According to the travel agencies, different airlines for Dhaka-Bahrain now sell a ticket at Tk1.20 lakh, which was Tk39,000-55,000 earlier, while a Dhaka-Mascot ticket's price is Tk65,000-70,000, which was Tk26,000-28,000 earlier.
The US-Bangla Airlines currently operates flights to Dubai, Muscat, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Kolkata, Chennai and Guangzhou.
The airline operates seven flights a week on the Dhaka to Dubai route.
Besides, the airline operates flights on all domestic routes, especially from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar, Chattogram, Sylhet, Saidpur, Jashore, Rajshahi and Barishal.
Kamrul Islam, general manager (public relations) at the US-Bangla airlines, told The Business Standard, "We have to decrease the number of passengers because of lower capacity. We are selling 140 tickets against 164 seats in an aircraft on the Dhaka-Dubai route. Besides, the number of returnee passengers is meagre."
"There are various restrictions in different countries. The tourist movement is now almost at the zero-level. So, we are bound to decrease the number of flights. In some destinations, we are operating only one flight per week," he added.
"In such a situation, if we do not increase ticket prices, how can an airline accommodate its operational costs?" he questioned.
Mizanul Rashid Chowdhury, deputy general manager (sales) at Air Arabia, told TBS that air ticket prices are high because of high demand against airlines' low capacity.
Biman, Novoair and US-Bangla are now operating domestic flights with ticket prices remaining almost the same as in pre-pandemic times.
"We do not have any international flights at this moment. We are operating flights to seven domestic destinations. Ticket prices have not changed much," said Mes-Bah-Ul Islam, head of marketing and sales at Novoair.
The US Bangla authority echoed the same regarding domestic ticket prices.
Ticket price affected migration costs
Manpower recruiting agencies claimed that migration costs have increased owing to high ticket prices.
"Now, an aspirant migrant needs Tk2-2.60 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia with a working visa. The migration cost has increased by around Tk50,000 due to high ticket prices," said Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, immediate-past general secretary to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).
"The ministry of expatriate welfare and overseas employment has requested the civil aviation and tourism ministry to take measures to decrease air ticket prices. But nothing has changed yet," he added.