A 93-year-old woman, originally from Calcutta, was on board a British Airways flight to London that took off last Sunday, the first flight by the airline from the city in 11 years.
Maya Ray Chaudhuri, a British national and resident of Chiswick in west London, used to fly regularly on the British Airways direct flight between Calcutta and London till the airline withdrew from Bengal’s skies in March 2009.
Ray Chaudhuri, a frequent visitor to Calcutta, was stuck this time because of the lockdown forced by the novel coronavirus.
“I never thought that I would again be able to take a direct flight from Calcutta to London. I was overwhelmed by emotion when I was boarding the flight on Sunday,” Ray Chaudhuri, who travelled alone from Calcutta, told Metro over the phone from her London home.
Several countries have evacuated their citizens from India after they got stuck because of the lockdown.
The British Airways flight that took off from Calcutta last Sunday carried 160 British nationals, including three infants, back to the UK. This was part of a 12-flight operation undertaken by the British high commission in India.
The Boeing 777-200 aircraft had made a technical stop in Delhi before flying to London.
“The lady was in tears when she was boarding the flight,” said an official at the Calcutta airport who was overseeing the boarding of passengers.
Ray Chaudhuri had first left for England in the 1960s with husband Shankar Ray Chaudhuri, who is no more.
“Since then I come to Calcutta every year. Most of the time we would take the British Airways non-stop flight. The familiarity was comforting,” said Ray Chaudhuri.
British Airways had touched down in the city for the first time in the late 1920s and withdrew and re-introduced flights several times before finally severing its ties with Calcutta in 2009.
“The direct flight gave us a nearer-home feeling. You would board the plane at Heathrow and get down in Calcutta,” said Ray Chaudhuri's daughter Urmila Banerjee, a Londoner. “During the days of direct flight, my mother would travel alone.”
But now she has to accompany the elderly lady because they travel by Emirates airline with a stopover in Dubai.
This time Ray Chaudhuri had arrived in Calcutta in December with her daughter and was to return to London on April 9. Urmila left after a couple of weeks.
“The April 9 flight was cancelled and I was in touch with the British deputy high commission in Calcutta to find out whether any special flight would be arranged. Finally, Nick Low, the deputy high commissioner, helped me and I received information about the (Sunday’s) flight,” said Urmila.