“My little daughter Seerat was the only child in the plane; she was hungry, sleepy and cranky – can you believe it, for four hours we were not even offered water?” Recalls a horrified Anuradha Narayan who was a passenger on this flight along with her two years’ old toddler Seerat. One is not allowed to carry water bottles on the flight and Anu was sure it being “our own” Air India she was travelling by, they would be served water and some snacks too; it was a short one hour’s flight – they would soon be home in Andheri, Mumbai.
The flight that was supposed to take off at 8.40 p.m. was late and took off only around 9.10 p.m. It was full with 119 passengers out of whom around ten were women. The air hostesses were seated in their seats with seat belts on and did not have time to get up and start serving the passengers at all when Anu felt the plane turning around and she instinctively knew something was wrong. After that, the air hostesses who must have got some signal from the cockpit remained seated and only when the plane began descending that an announcement was made that due to some technical snags the plane had returned to Nagpur and was landing where the problem would be looked into and they could take off again ASAP.
In Mumbai, Anu’s husband Pavel was about to drive to the airport to pick up his wife and daughter – earlier they would have just taken a cab but not anymore after the latest Uber incident! – when he got a call saying they had returned to Nagpur.
At the Nagpur airport, the passengers were left stranded on the plane for almost 30 minutes after landing. Naturally there was pandemonium as everyone was concerned about what was happening. A passenger, Anumita was scheduled to give a GMAT test the next morning in Mumbai – her admissions to various foreign universities were conditional on the test results; another girl Ms. Zodge ( name changed) was due to catch a flight to Newark (USA) at 1 a.m. Some had important business meetings, some family weddings etc.
But, recalls Anu, not once did the pilot or any air hostess bother to talk to the passengers, in person or through PBX to soothe their fears and anxieties, request them to remain seated and not crowd in the isles and assure them that some refreshments or at least something to drink would be served. Remember all these people had left their homes around 6.30 p.m. and had been at the airport since 7.30 at least.
Seerat was thirsty and began crying. Anu pressed the button for help from the hostesses at least 4 times before someone could come and ask them what she wanted.
After thirty minutes of this ordeal, they were asked to deplane without any word of explanation or what the arrangements for the passengers was. It was past 10.30 p.m. by then. The suspense continued at the departure lounge with no word, or no service again. An hour later, the final announcement was made stating the plane was cancelled and people could leave the airport. Those that had homes in Nagpur called their relatives to pick them up – those who had travelled to Nagpur and had nobody to turn to were again left high and dry. No conveyance, no hotel booking for the night – no help was rendered. One hapless middle aged passenger with health issues was heard calling up hotels who were all full since Maharashtra assembly session is on. He even begged a hotel to issue him a suite if nothing else was available! All the ‘help’ they rendered was giving out a number on which passengers were to be called for further details about how and when they would be flown out of Nagpur. Also, passengers numbers were noted to advise them in turn.
And yes! Adding fuel to the fire was that the relatives who rushed to the airport to pick up their stranded loved ones – since Air India made no arrangements – were harassed by the parking attendants and made to pay compulsory parking charges again!
The post script is when Anu called this number today she was told if she reached the airport within 15 minutes she could leave on the flight that was about to take off. The person representing Air India even told her very helpfully “madam, there are only FIVE passengers on board now!” When she expressed inability to make it to the airport with a baby and all her luggage in such a short tme, she was told – ok, come at 7.30 p.m. and try your luck on the usual 8.40 flight. There are no guarantees!