When Informatica, a software development company, stopped traveling at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sajida Begum, who runs the company’s travel program outside India, will soon face some of the biggest travel planning challenges in her career.
The first challenge came in the first months of the pandemic. Like most of the rest of the world, Begum watched as Informatica – which has its largest staff base in India, although its headquarters country, the United States, remains its largest travel program – instructed its staff to work from home, followed by the prime minister. Narendra Modi land closure.
At that time, the goal was to get employees working abroad back home.
“Since most of the staff got stuck in the US, we had to put a list at the Indian consulate in the United States, then pick them up and book them for repatriation flights,” Begum said. “We were able to relocate all but two specific employees who were on long-term projects in the United States.”
When the offices were closed, the two employees had been working outside the hotel for two months, waiting for their turn for a limited number of repatriation flights that favor categories such as seniors and pregnant women. However, when they finally approved the return, the standard approaches to booking a trip no longer applied, she said.
At that time, Air India was the only carrier authorized to repatriate passengers back to India and, according to the rules of repatriation, these flights could only be booked by passengers through the Air India website – not the company or its travel management company, American Express Global Business Travel or payment account normally used for air transport.
“It was between the consulate and the traveler; no one else was involved,” Begum said. “We directed them to the best way to book because we had alerts for each country and we had support [Amex GBT]. “
It was more than a simple return journey that Begum had to take. Repatriation flights via Air India were only available on certain days and through several gates, so it was necessary to arrange travel to ensure that they could travel to San Francisco in time to get to the connection, including staying at the hotel – which was also the case. in short. supply at that time.
The infection rate was high at the time, so moral support for passengers was very important. “
– Sajida Begum from Informatica
In addition, the measure had to include a government-authorized quarantine hotel upon arrival in India, which was seven days for asymptomatic arrivals at the time. Helping employees overcome this when they arrived when India experienced some of the darkest days of the pandemic gave the term “travel adviser” a new meaning.
“They just sat in the room and there were a lot of Covid patients in the hotel, so they were very nervous,” Begum said. “The infection rate was high at the time, so passenger moral support was very important.”
More than repatriation
When these passengers were safely at home, it was not the last time Begum had to take extraordinary measures to relocate its passengers around the world during a pandemic. Another employee had to move to Canada for a long-term, critical role for the company. There was no direct travel between India and Canada at the time. The only option was to join either through Mexico or Qatar, Doha, where they could be tested on Covid-19 and subsequently approved to travel to Canada. They opted for Mexico, which also included a connection to Paris for a total journey of about 26 hours, Begum said.
Over time, Begum had to get more travelers to Canada, and other options opened up, including Abu Dhabi, which had at least a direct connection to Bangalore and made travel a little easier. Nevertheless, Begum had to prepare passengers for the possibility of positive testing on Covid-19 at their transit airport, which would then require them to be quarantined there.
“We recommended that they either wait until the situation improves so that they can take advantage of the direct flight, or that they decide to travel knowing that they may have 14 days in quarantine upon arrival, where they will have to take care of these expenses. their own, ”she said.
A similar situation occurred for an employee who worked in Singapore, but returned to India on a personal trip after the outbreak of the pandemic. When Singapore closed its borders, the employee could not return to Singapore and was rejected six times in requests for direct return from India. Begum helped the employee find another option: to obtain travel approval from Turkey. Singapore approved the request, which required the traveler to quarantine Istanbul for two weeks before returning to Singapore, where he was quarantined for another 14 days.
Begum also had to help employees navigate some of the needs of domestic travel as part of a relocation during a pandemic. For example, when the United States lifted restrictions in August 2021, several employees needed to move to the United States, but they still could not enter there, even though they had valid visas. This required them to request an exemption from the national interest, which required a trip to the consulate in Chennai.
Ready for anything to come
“We have certainly relied on Amex GBT to provide us with up-to-date information, but in any case I would also check and monitor the government’s website,” Begum said. “We also have a partner with [International SOS] assists employees in decision making. “
With the lifting of Covid-19 global restrictions in many parts of the world, Begum’s roles have changed somewhat less Herculean, although it still addresses some additional travel needs due to the disease. Informatica has a major US-based conference in May, and with visa-sponsored visa meetings in some locations, it helps employees find and travel to consulates elsewhere in India so that they can be processed in a timely manner. In one case, the passenger had to go to two different consulates: one for biometrics and the other for an interview.
Although not a requirement, Informatica adheres to a policy that encourages passengers to test themselves before domestic flights in India that follow international flights, she said. This reduces the chances that they will be tested positively during transport and will have to go to quarantine.
Begum also collaborated with the Amex GBT meeting and event team to prepare vaccination events at the Informatica office in Hyderabad for employees and their families. “The country has been closed and we have arranged everything at the last minute, for last minute approval from the hospitals with which we have agreed on vaccinations.”
Lifting heavy loads has made Begum more confident in dealing with future crises, such as when Abu Dhabi was hit by a missile attack earlier this year.
“We looked at the situation and advised Amex [GBT] not to book flights to or transit through the UAE, and it has been suspended for a while, “she said.” We are looking at the safety and security of our employees. “