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‘Stranded for hours, no one told us why’

SUGATA BOSE, Harvard Gardiner Professor of oceanic history and chairman of Presidency University’s mentor group, was among the 200-odd passengers stranded at Delhi’s T3 for more than nine hours on Sunday. Reason: Air India’s London-Delhi-Calcutta flight couldn’t proceed from the national capital because it didn’t have a plane to fly out from Delhi and there wasn’t a crew available.

From afternoon till the flight finally took off after midnight, Bose and the other fliers could do nothing but wait. He recounts his harrowing experience.

I was on my way back from Boston and was supposed to reach home by 5.30pm on Sunday, but could make it only around 4am on Monday, courtesy the experience I had with Air India. I was returning to Calcutta for the Christmas holidays. I have many commitments around this time, including holding the Presidency mentor group meet and university council meeting.

Till Delhi, it was smooth flying. I had boarded Luft-hansa from Boston on Friday evening to reach Munich on Saturday morning. The same evening I took another Lufthansa flight from Munich and reached Delhi around 8.30am on Sunday.

From Delhi, I was to fly AI to Calcutta. Flight AI 020 was scheduled from T3 at 2.20pm but I was stuck there for more than nine hours. Instead of 2.20pm on December 15, the scheduled hour, the flight took off at 12.20am.

As a frequent AI flier, delays are not unusual to me but what shocked me was the utter lack of communication from the authorities about the reasons behind the delay. The airline informed the fliers on Sunday morning that the flight would take off at 7.30pm instead of 2.20pm. I received an email on my iPhone.

After 7.30pm, it was rescheduled twice — at 8.30pm and 9.15pm. The information popped up on the display board. There was no announcement, though. Officials at the check-in counter could not tell us the cause.

The counter staff disappeared after 9.15pm and the alerts on the screen stopped thenceforth. There was not a single official to explain if the flight would take off at all.

I was concerned about the plight of the elderly and kids, some of them flying all the way from London. They were exhausted after the long wait in the lounge. AI didn’t bother to offer food or drink till 11pm when a solitary AI official showed up and took the passengers to a cafeteria for dinner.

A Belgian I met in the lounge asked out of sheer disgust how the national carrier could think of striking a partnership with Star Alliance — the largest global airline alliance — given the service they were rendering. I did not have answers. He plans to write to Star Alliance narrating his experience.

His wife, a Bengali with parents in Calcutta, was shocked. I think what bothered everyone was the lack of information from the authorities. It is not unusual for international flights to get delayed or cancelled because of snow or fog. But airline personnel are always at hand to pass information. Such a gesture was found wanting on Sunday.

I met former tennis player Jaidip Mukerjea and Dibyendu Nandi, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Haringhata, in the lounge. They and other fliers asked me if I could do something… anything.

I called my mother Krishna Bose to get in touch with the AI’s Calcutta office. When she called, they were surprised to learn of the mess in Delhi. In fact, news about the flight being rescheduled at midnight came to me from my mother via the AI office in Calcutta.

I read in the morning AI officials explaining the delay: “two aircraft being withdrawn for maintenance and problem in arranging the crew”. A simple information. We were stranded for hours but no one told us why.

As told to Subhankar Chowdhury