Passengers also allege ill-treatment by ground staff and managers; airline denies charges and blames it all on bad weather in the hills
Several of those stranded had gone on the Chadar trek in Leh, a popular location for adventure lovers
Over 400 flyers from across the country are allegedly being held to ransom at Leh airport by inclement weather since January 26. The tourists, many of whom had gone for the Chadar trek in Ladakh, however, allege that Air India, which cancelled their flights owing to bad weather, has left them stranded at the airport, without access to any money or food.
Some of the exasperated passengers claimed that the airline categorically told them that the pilot of the flight that was supposed to set off from Delhi on January 26 "was not interested in flying". Air India (AI) has refuted this and blamed the weather in Leh. Most of the cancelled services are of flight AI446.
While AI's claim of inclement weather may be true for Tuesday's cancellation, there is no explanation for why the passengers have been stranded since January 26. According to data available on the flight tracking site, flightstats, planes landed from Delhi and Chandigarh on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
"The situation is ridiculous. The airport staff is extremely rude and is not offering satisfactory answers. There are people who don't even have money to buy food," Surya Mishra (34), a resident of Bhubaneshwar who was to return on Monday, told mid-day from Leh.
Last evening, tempers flew at the airport as the stranded passengers began to protest against Air India. "The trek was arduous. We haven't bathed or eaten since January 26. The airline staff just doesn't seem to care. We have to beg for services we paid for," alleged Mumbaikar Nikhita Chopra (25), who works as a freelance model and dancer and was expected to return home on January 29. "The staff needs to get its act together. How can one go by the mood of a pilot?" Chopra said most passengers have run out of money.
(from left) Mumbai resident Akhil Doiphode claimed that AI arranged for a special plane for Army officials while Surya Mishra of Bhubaneshwar said the AI staff has been discourteous and isn’t offering satisfactory answers to the stranded flyers
Delhi-based Surbhit Kant Dixit, director of Hindustan Motorcycling Company whose flight was scheduled for January 31, alleged that AI's general manager R Tsering brusquely spoke from Delhi to some flyers and told them not to waste his time. "We found out that Air India had been given permission to land."
Most flyers haven't been able to go back to their hotels in Leh after the temperature dropped drastically. Some who succeeded in getting back to their hotels have been forced to shack up with around eight in each room.
Other airlines had Plan B
Abhishek Singh, who landed in Mumbai with 136 other passengers on a Jet Airways plane last night, said other airlines worked tirelessly to accommodate those stranded in extra flights. "Now, only Air India passengers have been left behind."
Mumbai resident Akhil Doiphode (32), who was to return from Leh on January 29, claimed that AI arranged for a special plane for Army officials. "How was that flight's pilot ready to fly, but not ours?" He said the Prime Minister's Office, when approached for help, directed those stranded to seek help from the ministry of civil aviation. "The ministry assured us help, but nothing has come of it." Some 24 GoAir passengers, who, too, had been stranded at Leh returned home last night.
No. of days since they have been stranded
A spokesperson from Air India rubbished the allegation that an unwilling pilot had held up flights. "The flights were cancelled because of bad weather, not because someone was not in the mood to fly. Every flight needs weather clearance prior to taking off."
AI general manager R Tsering confirmed this from Delhi. "Because the en route weather was bad, the pilot decided to take the call of not travelling. He is authorised to take such calls."
He counter-claimed that the passengers were not cooperating. "They should understand taking a risk of flying in bad weather conditions cannot be taken. I’m arranging two more planes for February 1, which will bring all passengers back to Delhi safely."