Nightmare for passengers as Mumbai-bound Air France flight delayed

Published: 30 October, 2013 09:21 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon |

36 passengers were stranded for 30 hours at Paris airport when their flight to Mumbai was cancelled indefinitely; shocked at the indifference displayed by staff members, a few vow never to fly the airline again

Everyone has their own horrible tale of flying and dealing with difficult crew and ground staff. While most of us rant and rave and then forget about it, a passenger flying from Paris to Mumbai has shared his and 35 other fliers’ miseries in an open letter to the airline chief in a letter that has since gone viral on social networking websites.

Stranded: (From left) Shruti Kore, Joandi, Jay Shah, Ridhima Sarai and S Mishra were coming to Mumbai by the Air France flight. Except for Joanda, the others were all forced to stay at the airport for 30 hours

Jay Shah, a resident of Santacruz, penned down his plight when his Air France flight from Charles de Gaulle, Paris, which was to depart on October 10 at 10.50 am, was delayed. Shah and the others finally landed in Mumbai 30 hours later after braving abuse and indifference. MiD DAY tracked down a few of the fliers and spoke to them about their difficult journey.

Jay Shah
The 24-year-old, who runs a family business, was the one who refused to let this event just go by. After reaching Mumbai, he wrote the letter to Alexandre De Juniac, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Air France KLM recounting his miseries. Shah, who was in New York to meet his sister, was on his way home to Mumbai. He had chosen Air France flight AF 17 from JFK Airport and then a connecting flight from Paris to Mumbai. He says that once they landed at Charles de Gaulle, they were waiting for the announcement of their transit flight, which was to depart at 10.50 am. However, at 10.15, an announcement was made that the flight was delayed owing to technical issues and was rescheduled for 12.20 pm. At 12.45 when panic increased among passengers, as no boarding calls were made, passengers approached the ground staff and it was then that they were told that the flight to Mumbai had been cancelled indefinitely. Shah adds that instead of calming down passengers, the crew was indifferent and continued ignoring the pleas of the passengers. Later, the passengers were given meal vouchers by the staff. “Hungry, tired and thirsty, I made my way to Exki restaurant. The food coupon given to us just allowed to select one item, a Danish pastry or a hot or soft drink. Being a vegetarian I was in a pickle, as all the items had non-vegetarian ingredients. I had very little choice and selected a Thai vegetable soup. When I went to the cashier, the person objected and hurled abuses saying that I could not buy the soup on my coupon.” When asked what response the airline provided, Jay added, “The airline in its response has only asked us to share our bank details, which I presume is to provide us with some monetary compensation. But that is not the reason why I wrote the blog. As per the rules, the airline is supposed to provide us with compensation. But I wanted the world to recognise how Indians are treated and how little respect is given to the elderly passengers. The only reason to write the blog was to prevent any other flier being treated the same way.


S Mishra
S Mishra, a 27-year-old PhD student in robotic engineering from Washington, said, “On October 8, my father passed away in a road accident in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. I had to attend his funeral and was worried I would miss the last chance to say goodbye to my father, owing to the flight delay. I informed the airline staff about the situation and requested them to arrange for an alternate flight, as they had done for a passenger who was flying business class with us, but my plea went unheard.” He added, “At that moment, all I wanted to do was see my dad for the last time. I was sad and emotionally drenched. Finally, after 30 hours, I reached my hometown on October 11 (a day before Cyclone Phailin hit) and laid my father to rest amid heavy rain.” Mishra has now decided to voice his concern with the Air France headquarters and will write to them about the entire episode, though he is sure that he will not see any action. “I want people to know the incident, but I am not expecting any sympathy.”

Shruti Kore
A resident of Pune, who was in Pennsyl-vania in USA, Kore was returning to Mumbai after six months. She said, “I have decided not to fly Air France after the incident. We can understand that a flight can develop a technical snag but the manner in which the airline staff behaved with us is just unacceptable. They have no sympathy for the old and sick. They were only worried about business class and foreigners and treated us like second-class citizens.” She added, “I have filed a complaint and have demanded a refund.”

Ridhima Sarai
Sarai, who originally hails from India, was returning from London after working there for a few years. She was offered 200 euro as compensation by the airlines. However, Ridhima did not accept the same.

Joandi Hartendorp
A resident of Amsterdam, Joandi was on her way to attend a wedding in Pune. In an attempt to save 50 euros, she preferred to take the flight from Paris, a decision she is now regretting. Joandi said she was given a compensation of 800 euro in travel credit as per the EU Airline Act 261/2004.

Highlights of the blog
Day 1:
10.50 am: Scheduled flight was delayed due to technical problem. The flight was scheduled to take off at 12.20 pm, but finally at 1.00 pm the airlines staff informs us that the flight is cancelled indefinitely and did not even announce when it would leave the next day.
6.00 pm: The staff finally arrives with our passports after three hours. To my utter disbelief, only six or seven people are given the Transit Visa whereas the rest of us are denied. Ironically, the passengers, who received the visa, are only senior citizens. Their guardians were not granted visas.
6.20 pm: We ask them for directions to their lounge. At first, they seem perplexed and then comes another one of those cold, illogical and insensitive replies: Air France Lounge is only for Business Class passengers and they can’t allow us to stay there. We are asked to take an airport shuttle to the other terminal and fend for ourselves at the upper deck resting area.
A French gentleman probably my father’s age, flying Business Class apologetically said, “I’ve been flying for the past 35 years and I’m sorry but I’ve only seen this happen to certain people, I’m really sorry.”

Day 2
8.30 am: We meet the rest of the passengers who had gone to the hotels for the stay and wait for our flight.  That’s where I meet one elderly gentleman who is going to Baroda. I’m amazed at what he has to say. His flight from Newark to Paris on the 7th was delayed and therefore he missed his connecting flight to Bombay from Paris. So, they put him on our flight. I can’t believe it! He looks like he’s preparing himself for the role of Mr Viktor Navrovski from the movie Terminal. Imagine spending two whole nights at an airport.

What the rule says 
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 says:
>> In the event of long delays (two hours or more, depending on the distance of the flight), passengers must in every case be offered free meals and refreshments plus two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails
>> If the time of departure is deferred until the next day, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation
>> When the delay is five hours or longer, passengers may opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket together with, when relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure.

The other side
When MiD DAY tried contacting the Air France headquarters in Paris did not yield any result. However, an official from the airline’s Bangalore office said, “Since the incident happened in Paris, the grievances should be made to the headquarter directly.”

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