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Fog knocks out flights

HASSLED: Passengers stranded at Patna airport on Saturday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

Patna: Dense fog delivered a knockout punch to Jaya Prakash Narayan International Airport (JPNIA) on Saturday, forcing cancellation of 10 flights and diversions of six others, leading to thousands of passengers getting stranded, their New Year and office plans gone haywire.

It was the third consecutive day that flight operations at Patna airport were badly hit. The worst part was that hundreds of passengers had to wait in the open in biting cold on a day when fog would dampen clothes quickly. Some of them waited overnight in the hope of getting accommodated on flights departing on Saturday.

However, their wait did not bear much success and they remained stranded. As temperatures began to dip, tempers soared and the angry people vandalised counters and kiosks of a couple of airlines.

Patna airport sees 27 departures during winter and with 16 of them cancelled or diverted, passengers of the remaining flights waited throughout the day hoping they would be able to fly to their destinations. But till evening only eight flights pertaining to various airlines were able to take off from the airport.

Kumar Ranjan, a software engineer at the Noida office of a multi-national company, was stranded at the airport since Friday. He said he was worried about being able to reach New Delhi to be with his family for the New Year.

Supreme Court advocate Brajesh Kumar said he had booked a ticket on Indigo airlines flight 6E 6325, which was scheduled to depart at 7.20pm on Friday evening, but could not due to fog. He was found waiting at the airport on Saturday as well.

"At first I had to wrestle to get inside the airport, which was much worse than railway stations," Brajesh said. "The flight was delayed for a couple of hours and we finally boarded it around 10pm. And then we had to sit for another couple of hours for it to take off. But it never did. After much ruckus and agitation, the flight was rescheduled as 6E 9325 for Saturday. I exited the airport and wanted to go to my sister's place in Patna to spend the night. But the fog was dense and no vehicles available. I finally reached her place around 1.45am on Saturday."

Similar was the plight of Kumar Ranjan, the softward engineer from Noida. "I just want to go home. My wife and kids are waiting there and we have plans for the New Year. I am just praying to God that the skies clear up."

People warm their hands around a fire in Gaya on Saturday morning. Picture by Suman

Several passengers complained about lack of readily available information at the airport, lack of display boards and proper announcements to relay latest whereabouts of the flights.

They were also agitated about the way the staff of some private airlines handled the situation.

"Ground staff of private airlines are just rude and discourteous. They can mislead passengers, make them wait further and then disappear when pressure builds up on them," said Guriya Singh, a passenger waiting to catch a flight to Mumbai.

Meghna Sinha, a student at SRM University, was worried about missing her connecting flight from Calcutta to Chennai.

Meanwhile, it was not the passengers alone who suffered, Patna airport director R.S. Lahauria was himself stranded at New Delhi airport and his flight to Patna ultimately got cancelled.

"I had a ticked on GoAir's flight 149, which was to depart at 3pm. It was first delayed to 5.30pm and then cancelled. I guess, I will be able to wait here for longer. The passengers in Delhi, who were flying to Patna were quite agitated," Lahauria said.

The airport director said visibility on Saturday morning dipped to as low as 50m, which reached up to 1400m around 12.30 in the afternoon.

"Two aircraft flew using low visibility take-off procedure when the visibility was 800 and 900m, respectively. Patna airport needs 1200 minimum visibility for aircraft to take off," Lahauria said.

Meanwhile, the life of Patnaites was thrown out of gear because of dense fog.

Weathermen have predicted that the fog cover will continue and people will be able to see the Sun on New Year only if they are lucky.

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