Flyers stranded all over the country as bad weather at Delhi airport has a domino effect on flights everywhere
Thick fog in Delhi over the last weekend proved a wet blanket on Christmas for flyers in the city, forcing 150 flights to be delayed, rescheduled or cancelled.
Passengers at Mumbai airport flying to or from Delhi, the country's busiest sector, endured waits for hours together on Saturday and Sunday as bad weather disrupted air traffic.
Foggy conditions at Delhi airport have thrown air traffic out of gear
A dozen flights were cancelled in all.
On Saturday, more than 60 flights, both departures and arrivals, were affected due to dense fog in New Delhi and other north Indian sectors, where the average delay was up to four hours.
Three departures to and three arrivals from Delhi were cancelled on Saturday, while an equal number were diverted to Mumbai.
The rescheduled flights, including Delhi-bound carriers that had to be diverted back to Mumbai, disrupted scheduled operations from the city until the next day.
"Several flights were affected on Saturday night because of the bad weather in Delhi. Six international flights and two domestic flights bound for Delhi had to be diverted to Mumbai.
A number of departures and arrivals on Mumbai-Delhi sector got cancelled as well," said a spokesperson of Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL).
Consequently, on Sunday, the scheduled operations started with an average delay of one to three hours, throwing more than 60 outbound flights to and inbound flights from Delhi out of kilter, and an additional 30 on the Bangalore sector.
Six flights on north Indian sectors including Delhi, Chandigarh and Kolkata had to be cancelled because of poor visibility and bad weather.
"The flight movements to Delhi and Bangalore sector are very poor. Saturday most of the flights were delayed, rescheduled or cancelled.
And there seems to be no improvement in the situation today as the flights are getting delayed up to four hours," an Air Traffic Control (ATC) official told MiD DAY on Sunday.
Meanwhile, passengers at the Mumbai airport alleged non-cooperation from airlines. DGCA guidelines related to delays owing to meteorological conditions do not bind airlines to pay compensation.
"The airlines are trying to take advantage of the situation. My flight to Delhi got delayed by more than an hour and a half.
When I enquired of the airline, the staff was curt and dismissive. They said it was not their mistake, and if I had any queries, I should address them to the ATC which coordinates flight traffic," said a passenger.
Bearing the brunt
The ticket booking agents say they have become a receptacle for passengers' fury, as those who do not get a proper reply from their airlines shout at the ticket booking agents.
"In an emergency, airline call centres have always proved to be incompetent. I have got over a dozen calls from customers whose flights on the Delhi sector got cancelled.
They called me because they did not get a proper reply from their airlines," said Vikash Kumar, a ticketing agent from Mulund.
Total flights affected on Delhi sector: 60
Total flights cancelled on delhi sector: 6
Total flights affected on delhi sector: 60
Flights cancelled on north Indian sector: 6
Total flights affected on Bangalore sector: 30
Total flights affected: 150
The situation at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport is particularly worrisome. Over 200 flights have been delayed, diverted or cancelled due to prevailing foggy conditions between Saturday and Sunday evening.
Frenzied travellers have started cancelling and postponing their travel plans for the year end.
Those who reached the airport on Sunday morning complained of lack of information about their flights; many were stranded for hours.
A total of 42 flights headed to Delhi airport, including 14 international ones, had to be diverted to Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow and Mumbai as runway visibility dropped to less than 100 metres. It is expected to drop to zero on Monday morning.
A total of 326 flights operated following low-visibility procedures which came into effect at 7 pm on Saturday and remained till 1 pm on Sunday.
That's over 17 hours, the longest this season. Thirty-eight flights cancelled so far are mostly from the domestic sector.
The airport was closed for nearly two hours as visibility fell below 100 metres. The chaos in the past two days has hit the tourism sector.
City travel agents say those who had booked their flights for the weekend have started cancelling them.
"In the past two days, instead of getting booking calls, I have been flooded with cancellation calls.
People are worried. Some of the bookings that were made as early as Diwali under various schemes are now being cancelled," said Rajender Kumar, a representative of City Travels.
Many believe there is no point in taking a risk. "We have cancelled our trip to Srinagar. What if we get stuck," said, Paritosh and Sunanda Kandwal.
"Earlier, I was planning to go to Europe. But because of the heavy snowfall there I had to cancel it.
Recently I decided to go to Kullu. But, now as airlines have started cancelling flights to different destinations because of fog, I also had to postpone my travel plans," Rajesh Garg, a businessman.
The DGCA has now fixed the minimum limit of 125 metres for small aircraft and 150 metres for bigger aircraft to take off in low visibility conditions.
Meanwhile, DGCA chief and recently appointed Aviation Secretary Naseem Zaidi held a meeting with DIAL to discuss preparedness to deal with the fog.
The airlines have been asked not to allow boarding if runway visibility is less than 125 metres as passengers have to wait for hours inside the aircraft before their flight takes off.
No CAT III-B compliant aircraft would be allowed to land before 10 am.
Plans Dashed Twice Over
The fog also played truant with the plans of Shaista Sultan, a University of Pune student, who has been trying to get to her hometown, Srinagar, from the city since Saturday.
Sultan planned to celebrate this New Year with her family and wanted to be in Srinagar as early as possible.
So, when her flight there got cancelled on Saturday, she decided to catch one to Delhi to take a train home. The Delhi flight got delayed four times before finally getting cancelled yesterday.
Speaking to MiD DAY at the airport, Shaista said, "My direct flight for Srinagar got cancelled on Saturday. I then booked a flight to Delhi to take a train from there, but even that got cancelled."
Now, she is going back to Pune as her vacation plans are ruined and she has lost hope of getting home. "I thought I will celebrate the New Year with my family.
I am now headed to the university campus in Pune, where I will have to herald the New Year alone."
Flights delayed at Mumbai airport over the Christmas weekend. 120 of these was in the Mumbai-Delhi sector, and the rest were in the Bangalore sector
Flights delayed, diverted or cancelled in New Delhi due to prevailing foggy conditions on Saturday and Sunday
Duration of low-visibility conditions at Delhi airport from 7 pm (Sat) till 1 pm (Sunday) the longest this season.
This student has been waiting at Mumbai airport for 42 hours