Gautam Basu, an octogenarian British citizen who visits his family in Calcutta every winter, read the reports of the harassment faced by Air India fliers published in Metro on Saturday. He wrote to the newspaper from London sharing his own experience earlier this month.
I was elated when last year Air India introduced the non-stop once a week flight on the London-Calcutta-London sector. This, I thought, would be the end of the inconveniences of a passenger who had to make this journey from London to Calcutta and back and would have to take one of the Gulf flights, which entailed lengthy and tiring stopovers at either Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi, or take a flight to Delhi and then travel onward.
Without losing any time, I booked myself on flight AI 164 of November 20, 2021, non-stop from London to Calcutta with my return ticket on January 9, 2022, from Calcutta to London on flight AI 163.
The journey from London was fine.
On December 30, 2021, the Bengal government cancelled all direct flights from UK with effect from January 3, 2022. However, there was no mention of cancellation of flights from Calcutta to London.
A week before my scheduled flight from Calcutta on January 9, I was landed with untold anxiety and uncertainty. I went to the Air India office on Central Avenue on December 31 to seek clarification and confirmation of my outward flight. Having waited an hour or so, I got to the desk to speak to a member of the staff. He was vague and ambiguous regarding the status of flight AI 163.
He was keen to book me on an alternative flight from Delhi or Bangalore to London and quoted an additional ticket cost of around £400. That meant I had to fly to either Delhi or Bangalore from Calcutta and spend 5-6 hrs in transit and arrange my Covid-19 pre-departure test date in another city. My nightmare had just begun.
At that point, I asked to see a senior official. I was told by this official that Air India had not cancelled the January 9 flight from Calcutta to London and it would take off as scheduled. He also said Air India would make sure an aircraft from their fleet of 145 would come to Calcutta airport to fly the 265 and odd passengers booked on the flight out to London. The flight was fully booked and they could not afford to cancel the flight that, he said, would cause a great deal of misery to fliers and inconvenience passengers. I went back home fully assured of my flight.
I took the 48-hour pre-departure Covid-19 test and filled in the passengers’ location form with the negative RT-PCR test result. My flight was at 6.30am on January 9. As there was a night curfew in Calcutta, I set out at 7pm on January 8 for the airport from Jadavpur. I reached around 8pm and went in to check in.
I was told to go to the Air India enquiry counter at the airport. There I was told my flight AI163 was cancelled.
There had been no intimation or communication of any kind to me from Air India about cancellation of this flight.
I was offered an alternative flight AI 747 from Calcutta to Bangalore, taking off at 11.15pm on January 9 and flight AI 177 from Bangalore to London at 7am on January 10. I returned home at 10pm.
The following day I went to the airport at 6pm and via Bangalore reached London on January 10, 8.30pm, Indian time. I had been on air for 11 hours and had spent 15 hours in two airports.
The Bangalore to London flight was delayed by three hours and no Air India staff was to be seen explaining the delay and offering food. My nightmare ended only after touching down at London Heathrow airport.
Many thanks to Air India!
Asked by this newspaper for comment, Air India said on Saturday night: “Everyone who has given their contact details has been contacted if flight is rescheduled or cancelled.”