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Flyers hit hard as Air India goes into contingency mode

S. Anil Radhakrishnan
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The situation of flyers from Kerala to West Asia has worsened with Air India taking contingency measures to face the strike by its pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild.

The airline has reduced the frequency of some flights from here, Kochi and Kozhikode, cancelled some and combined a few of its flights to the Gulf countries with those of Air India Express. Dammam and Kuwait have been cut off from Kerala as the national carrier is not operating flights from the three airports to these destinations.

As many as 20 per cent of the flights of Air India and Air India Express from Kerala have been cancelled, airline sources told The Hindu . Of the 21 Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the Air India Express fleet, only 11 are flying.

The number of seats available on Air India and Air India Express flights from the State has thus come down drastically, forcing passengers to rush for tickets. Airline sources said the national carrier had stopped reservations to avoid hassles to the passengers.

The strike has come as a big blow to hundreds of passengers, mostly non-resident Keralites and job-seekers. Those travelling to Saudi Arabia have been hit the most as the national carrier has stopped all flights from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi to the kingdom.

First, the two weekly Riyadh flights were reduced to one, citing crew shortage. Later, the service was operated only from Riyadh. Now, the service has been cancelled from June 13 to 28, citing VVIP movement.

The daily Dubai and Abu Dhabi flights from Thiruvananthapuram were combined and operated. Now, it is being operated only to Dubai and passengers are being transported to Abu Dhabi by road. The three weekly flights to Muscat have been reduced to two. Air India Express has cancelled one flight to Sharjah. Passengers to Dammam are being transported via Bahrain by road. The flights to Sharjah and the Maldives from Kerala have not been affected as they are operated by pilots of the erstwhile Indian. Sources said the airline was maintaining connectivity using the contingency plan to the Gulf destinations.

The national carrier used to have regular flights to Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al-Ain, Muscat, Salalah and Doha. Airline sources said a shortage of commanders was the main reason for the cancellation and combining of flights.

Many passengers take flights of foreign airlines, even if the times are not convenient and the connectivity offered is poor.

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