Tempers are flying all around as more and more of Air India’s planes are not. Here is the case of about a hundred US-bound passengers, who have been cooling their heels in Juhu for three days, as the airline doesn’t have pilots to fly them to the US. On May 7, over a hundred passengers, most of them from Gujarat arrived at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) to board Air India’s flight, AI 191 Mumbai-Newark. The flight, which was scheduled to depart at 1.30 am on May 8, got cancelled and the passengers were informed at the last minute about it. Temporary accommodation was provided at different hotels to these travellers by the carrier, that too following several hours of delay. Since then, every day has brought with it a sense of déjà vu.
“For the past three days, we are literally in a hostage-like situation. The flight is declared cancelled every day, and the airline management is not even aware when it will actually take off. We were going to tour the US, but are now forced to do Juhu darshan. The credit goes to the airline management and the pilot,” said Ahmedabad resident, Professor Yogesh Chauhan, who along with wife Bhavana Patel, was on his way to pay his family in New Jersey his annual visit.
Ahmedabad resident Kumod M Patel is worried because her husband is in sever stress because of the turn of events. “My husband is really worried due to this sudden cancellation. I can only wait for things to improve. Till then I can only keep visiting Juhu beach,” she said. The apathetic attitude of the airline can be understood from the fact that whenever these passengers have called up the airline counter in the last three days to find out about the flight status, the officer on duty has confirmed that the plane would depart. But, once these commuters reach the airport with their baggage, they are told at the eleventh hour that the flight has been cancelled and they are shifted to a new hotel.
“In the last three days, all we have been doing is taking the word of airline officials and come to airport, and then move to a different hotel as we are told the flight has been cancelled again. Every time we have to lug around this heavy baggage. But, I think the airline is not bothered at all,” said Nadiad-based advocate NS Patel, who, along with wife Savita, was going to meet their daughter and son-in-law in New Jersey. Anand resident, advocate Mayank Bhatt has paid several lakhs for hotel bookings in Florida where he was headed with his wife and two kids. But now he is unsure whether he will be able to make it. “It is a big financial loss for me. I had planned this tour in advance and booked everything including accommodation in Florida for one month. Since we have not reached there yet, the money is going to waste. I am sure neither would the airline pay for the damages, nor would the hotel in Florida entertain this excuse. My two kids are not feeling well. I even don’t know a good hospital around here,” he lamented 67-year-old Hyderabad resident Sakuntala R Patel is a US Green Card holder. But she doesn’t know whom to approach for help. “I had a major surgery last month. I am getting sick day by day. I don’t know what to do and where to seek help.”
Indore-based Kiran Gujrati and wife were on their maiden visit to the US to meet their little granddaughter. “The only thing which the airline officials know is that pilots are not available to operate the flight. I don’t think I will be able to meet my granddaughter this time,” he said. One Mumbai-based passenger was informed about the cancellation, after the issuance of boarding pass. “I was scheduled to travel on AI 191 on May 9. I got the boarding pass and was proceeding towards the immigration counter when the duty officer announced the flight was cancelled, and all the boarding passes should be handed over to the duty officer. Some compliments to the airline because the staff helped me doing visa-related formalities. The rest was a nightmare,” said Ghatkopar resident Dileshwari Kapadia, who is also a US Green Card holder. Due to backlog, the number of passengers on this particular AI flight has gone up to 750. The airline has stopped bookings for the sector, till the pilots’ strike is called off.
On Thursday, the strike called by agitating Air India pilots entered its third day. With no major breakthrough, the standoff is likely to enter a fourth day. Both the government and pilots are adamant on their stand, due to which thousands of passengers are stranded at different airports in the country. The airline sources told this newspaper that it has terminated the services of more than 40 agitating pilots till Thursday evening. Air India, which operates about 50 international and 400 domestic flights every day, cancelled 21 international flights and rescheduled 19 flights yesterday.
The other side
When contacted, the Air India spokesperson said, “We have done our best to accommodate the passengers at different hotels. Due to this sudden crisis the flights got affected in the last three days. Yesterday also we were sure about the departure, but at the eleventh hour it got cancelled. We are trying to accommodate our guests on different carriers, but since those flights are also going full our hands are tied. We are expecting the crisis to resolve soon.”