Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala’s normally divided opinion on issues found a rare change over the past couple of days, when political parties and experts from various fields were united in strongly protesting the abrupt cancellation of 168 Air India flights to the Middle East and other destinations.
The criticism rang loud across different media platforms on Saturday and yesterday as Air India strained to clear the backlog of hundreds of passengers bound for the Middle East and other destinations, and were stranded at various airports on Saturday.
Some of the passengers were provided connecting flights to their destinations on Saturday evening. The remainder were expected to be cleared by yesterday evening.
The relief, however, came only after everyone from Chief Minister Oommen Chandy down to stranded passengers, some of them carrying wailing infants or escorting elderly people, raised their complaints in one voice against the disregard shown by the national carrier to international travellers from Kerala. The matter had to be taken up with Federal Aviation Minister Ajith Singh.
Local MP Shashi Tharoor told a local television channel that he had been promised by Singh that “such a situation would not be repeated”.
Tharoor said the aviation minister had agreed to personally visit Kerala to apprise himself of the difficulties faced by air travellers. However, it is still not clear whether the cancelled flights from Kerala would be reinstated immediately.
The latest round of problems for travellers began when the Sharjah-bound Air India Express flight from here was cancelled on Saturday morning. To make matters worse, passengers felt the Air India staffers could not adequately answer their queries or inform them when they would be able to fly out. Some of the passengers were under severe mental stress because their visas were on the verge of expiration.
Passengers were further stressed when it became known that an aircraft was being diverted to Uttar Pradesh to operate Haj flights from that state, and that this arrangement may last through October.
Chief Minister Chandy requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the issue of frequent cancellations of flights from Kerala by the national carrier.
He said the steep increase in fares, coupled with flight disruptions doubled the misery of overseas-based Keralites.
Chandy had brought this point to the prime minister’s attention hardly a fortnight ago, when Singh was in Kochi to inaugurate the Emerging Kerala investor meet.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala also wrote the prime minister about frequent flight cancellations, pointing out that this was an injustice to Keralites, while state minister for non-resident Keralites affairs, K.C. Joseph requested the federal civil aviation minister and the managing director of Air India to take immediate steps to stop such flight cancellations.
Left-leaning parties in the state also joined in the chorus denouncing such ill-treatment of passengers from Kerala.
The Communist Party of India state council passed a resolution protesting both the frequent flight cancellations as well as the steep hike in air fares to Gulf destinations.
Air travel industry expert K.V. Muraleedharan said he suspected a conspiracy behind the whole episode, in putting air travellers from Kerala in trouble.
In the backdrop of frequent hardships for air travellers from Kerala, the state government has proposed to launch its own carrier, Air Kerala.