The Telegraph
Wednesday , December 22 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Xmas fliers left stranded by snow
- ‘I have no idea when I’ll be able to return’

“I have no idea when I’ll be able to return,” Ambarish Dutta told his four-year old son Atish in Calcutta over the phone on Monday.

The researcher at an Exeter medical school had just learnt after waiting for 14 hours at London’s Heathrow airport that his Air India flight home had been cancelled following persistent and heavy snowfall.

“I travelled nearly 200 miles by bus from Exeter to London and waited at the airport with thousands of others for 14 hours only to learn that the flight had been cancelled,” said Dutta, whose wife Bidisha and son Atish live in Calcutta.

As the spate of cancellations at almost all European airports continued on Tuesday, a sense of gloom gripped fliers bound for Calcutta from Europe or those in the city planning to spend the Christmas and New Year there.

Airline sources said more than half the flights at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, were cancelled on Tuesday. Calcutta businessman Rajesh Gidwani went to London on a business trip on November 27 and was scheduled to return by Tuesday. “I am stuck in London. All roads are covered in snow. Today I learnt that some flights had started operating but I have no clue when I’ll get a berth,” the Chowringhee Lane resident said over the phone from London.

British Airways officials said only one of the two runways at Heathrow was operational on Tuesday. “Many areas of the airfield, including where planes are parked, are still snow-clad and inaccessible,” said a British Airways spokesperson.

“BA has confirmed a limited schedule of flights to and from the airport, at least till 6am on Wednesday. We would urge customers not to travel to the airport unless they have a confirmed booking on one of the flights that is operating. Customers whose travel is not essential are encouraged to cancel their flights, in return for a full refund,” she said.

Lufthansa said all domestic flights and some flights to European destinations from Frankfurt were cancelled. “Lufthansa tickets can be used for onward train journeys in Europe,” said an official.

The call centres of airlines and travel agents and the international terminal office at Calcutta airport were flooded with calls from anxious passengers and their relatives, desperate to know the flight status.

“We are receiving calls from passengers who are stuck in various cities of Europe. Those in the US who are flying back through Europe are also stuck,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), Travel Agents’ Federation of India. “Several passengers from Calcutta have cancelled their bookings.”

Travel industry sources said around 150 people on an average fly from Calcutta to Europe daily. The count of inbound passengers during this time of the year is 350 a day.

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