Aug. 10: Airports swung to their highest levels of security and flights to London headed for long delays in the immediate fallout of the UK terror bust-up.
Those travelling to London, from where all outward connections appeared to have been cancelled and whose skies were swarming with planes waiting to land, were told it could be hours before they are allowed to get off the aircraft.
“Our New York-London-Mumbai flight (AI 112) was delayed by six hours. Our Mumbai-London (AI 101) flight had no problems in making a timely landing but had to wait for two hours before being given a gate for passengers to disembark,” Air-India director Jitendra Bhargava said. The carrier feared the delays could send the schedules of flights to other destinations — where planes delayed in London would have been used — into a tailspin.
“What’s happening in London is upsetting our schedules. This may delay other flights we operate using the same aircraft. So, we are asking passengers to check timings before leaving for the airport,” Bhargava said.
The carrier’s Calcutta-London flight took off at 2.10 pm, a little later than its scheduled departure of 1.30 pm today. “Flights may be delayed... but there are no cancellations here,” an official said.
A spokeswoman for British Airways (BA), the largest airline on the route, said flights to India were delayed by “a couple of hours” but take-offs here were “on schedule”.
BA’s flight to Calcutta from London left at 8.15 pm (IST), the airline said, adding the return service would also leave on schedule at 7.45 am from Calcutta tomorrow.
Travel agents elsewhere in the country said the uncertainty of missed connections and fear of an attack had sparked a rash of cancellations. “I am getting cancellation orders from corporate clients who use London as a staging post for work in Europe. Those who can postpone UK visits are doing so,” said Debasish Chatterjee of CTI Travels in Delhi.
The security shield at the airports was reinforced. “It is a level-three alert that we have in place, just a notch below high alert. But this is not in response to the UK terror plot. It was put in place after a recent meeting between the director-general of civil aviation and the CISF to review security arrangements ahead of Independence Day and in the aftermath of the July 11 Mumbai blasts,” a senior official of the Airports Authority of India said in Mumbai.
At Calcutta airport, where a red alert is already in place, CISF commandant K. N. Tripathi said surveillance has been stepped up. “Manual checking of hand baggage has been intensified. It is being done even after X-ray screening.”
BA said passengers could carry hand baggage if the travel ended at London, but not if one wanted to take an onward flight out. Air-India kept it simple. “We are asking our passengers not to carry any hand-baggage,” Bhargava said.