Passengers stuck on AI plane for 9 hours

Some 200 passengers aboard an Air India flight from Mumbai had a harrowing time on Sunday as they were stranded for nearly nine hours stuck inside the plane after it had to be diverted from Heathrow to Gatwick because of fog.

Even after the fog cleared, a combination of bureaucracy and comedy of errors involving an Air India crew meant that the passengers ended up spending as much time on the tarmac without food or drink as they had travelling from India.

The flight from Ahmedabad via Mumbai was to land at Heathrow at 8 a.m. local time but was diverted to Gatwick, where it remained stranded until 4.30 p.m.

Even after the fog cleared, the plane could not leave because of the civil aviation rules about the maximum number of hours that a crew are allowed to work in one shift. A replacement crew was called but reportedly lost its way to Gatwick causing further delay.

Tempers frayed as tired and hungry passengers demanded why they were not allowed to disembark and taken to Heathrow by coach as airlines normally do. They were told that would be technically illegal and one passenger who tried to leave was brought back by police.

Rahul Joglekar, a BBC journalist who was on the flight, said people became “very, very angry.”

“Tempers are running high as you would expect. We’ve have had a few bottles of juice and water but we haven’t received a meal since we’ve been stranded at the airport. Passengers have been asking the crew members, ‘why don’t you let us deplane because we’re at Gatwick already?’ One of the passengers became desperate and picked up his bag and walked down the plane…and then the police had to bring him back to the plane,’’ he told one newspaper speaking from the stranded plane.

Another passenger Jas Johal said “everyone was very hungry and there was no sign of any food.”

A spokesman for Gatwick was reported as saying that it had been Air India's decision to keep the passengers on board rather than arrange alternative transport to Heathrow.

“The plane remained off the runway and (was) kept in the vicinity of the tarmac. The duty of care in those situations lies with the airline,” he said.

But an Air India spokesperson blamed British airport authorities saying that even though the fog cleared after an hour and a half Air India was not given an early slot to return from Gatwick.

“We kept waiting hoping that we would get a slot and then one thing led to another,” she told The Hindu.

She denied that at any point the crew left the plane but acknowledged that because of “very strict” rules, governing their working hours, they were unable to fly back to Heathrow when a slot became available and the replacement crew did get lost on way to Gatwick.

She also denied that no refreshments were given.

“We did give light sandwiches and soft drinks,” she said.

Finally, when the ordeal was over, Air India apparently handed out a letter to passengers offering its “sincere apologies for any inconvenience.”

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 2:51:52 AM |

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