Around 30 planes were hovering over the airport when a squall hit the city on Tuesday evening. Worried relatives of many of the passengers were desperately calling the “helpline” numbers mentioned on the airport’s website.
The relatives were eager to know the status of the storm-struck flights but the numbers were that of the airport manager’s office. Most callers were asked to call the respective airlines, sources said.
The government-run Calcutta airport — unlike privately run facilities such as the one in Mumbai — does not have a dedicated information desk.
“Several flights were hovering over the airport during the squall, unable to land because of strong winds and lightning. A couple of flights were diverted, too. Such situations trigger confusions and airport managers are flooded with calls from worried relatives of passengers. On Tuesday, there were people calling up several times to know the status of the affected flights,” an airport official said.
Though most anxious callers were asked to call up the airlines, the airline call centres do not have real-time updates when flights are disrupted because of bad weather, an official of a private airline said.
“The airport should have an information desk that will coordinate with the air traffic control,” he said.
Calcutta airport’s website contains two mobile numbers and as many landline numbers. Sources said all four numbers are of the airport manager’s office.
Metro called both landline numbers on Wednesday evening but no one responded.
Officials said the airport manager’s primary responsibility is not to answer queries from passengers or their relatives but to ensure that all amenities are available.
“During squalls managers at Calcutta airport are often busy getting leaking roofs fixed. At other times, they have to deal with problems such as unavailability of trolleys,” an official at the airport said.
“It’s almost impossible for the managers to answer queries from fliers or their relatives. Often there are calls from passengers who have either left their baggage at another airport or whose luggage has not arrived. The managers are not expected to answer such queries.”
The Mumbai airport has a joint control centre to field queries. The centre is open 24 hours and run by airport personnel as well as representatives of airlines and other stakeholders.
“Since representatives of the airlines and the ground control unit are stationed at the centre, getting real-time updates is not a problem. Anyone answering a call has to just stand up and ask around,” said an official of Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL), which runs the airport at the Maharashtra capital.
The control centre, along with its regular numbers, has an emergency helpline number which is displayed at several parts of the terminal building. The centre also has an interactive voice recording system.
The Calcutta airport has an operation control centre, too, but sources said it only handled operations such as allottment of parking bays, baggage belts and check-in counters. The personnel at the centre do not interact with passengers.
Airline officials said they had submitted a list containing the helpline numbers of all airlines to the airport authorities about a year back.
“We had requested them to put these numbers on display at various parts of the terminal for the benefit of the passengers and their relatives. But till date this has not happened,” an official of a private airline said.