| A passenger talks on a cellphone as she waits outside Delhi airport on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Feb. 1: Airlines, hit badly by today’s lack of services at major airports, have been ordered by the government not to scale down flights or issue any advisory to passengers other than those asking them to travel light and check schedules before leaving home.
Civil aviation secretary Ajay Prasad held a meeting with top brass from all domestic airlines today and asked them to help out.
“The message is air operations should be as normal as possible. We don’t buckle before slogan-shouting workers,” a senior civil aviation ministry official said.
Airlines, which need government support in virtually everything from route allocations to permission to bring in new aircraft, have little choice but to do as asked.
Most airlines privately said they are likely to see a drop in passenger traffic in the coming days if the airport workers’ agitation intensifies. In such a situation, it would make business sense to club or cancel some flights.
But they add that despite this feeling, it will be business as usual.
“We will operate normally. There are small problems, toilets are unclean, conveyor belt maintenance needs to be looked at, but airports are open and we are flying,” said Ajay Jasra, spokesperson for SpiceJet.
Officially, airlines are not issuing any travel advisory but staff at airports and ticket counters across the country have been asked to tell passengers to check flight timings before coming to airports and to travel light.
“Baggage clearance, conveyor belts are problem areas. It’s best if one travels with cabin baggage only,” an airline official said.
The warning proved true at Delhi airport at least. Abhijeet Goswami, a software executive coming in from Hyderabad, said he failed to locate a trolley to move his luggage.
“It took me 40 minutes to come out of the airport after disembarking from the plane. First, the conveyor belts were not properly functioning and once the luggage came, no trolleys were to be found,” said Goswami.
Baggages were not the only problem. M. Raghavaiah, whose flight from Pune to Delhi reached two hours behind schedule, said: “The toilets are in a pathetic condition. They are choked and stinking and if it remains this way for a few more hours, it would be worse than roadside urinals.”
Airport officials, however, said they have roped in the NGO, Sulabh International, to man and clean airport toilets. The NGO would be deploying personnel at many airports by tomorrow.
In Bangalore, Capt. G.R. Gopinath, managing director of Air Deccan, said: “The indefinite strike is totally unacceptable. A handful of employees is holding the country to ransom. The government should know what is needed for the country and the common man. They should not be dictated by parties with vested interest.
“From Calcutta alone, we have 35 flights to various destinations, including the Northeast. All of them were cancelled today and we do not know what will happen tomorrow. A number of flights in the Mumbai and Delhi sectors, too, were cancelled.’’