World | India

Grounded, and just plane angry

Air India abruptly suspends 168 flights to the Middle East and other destinations from Kerala, leaving thousands stranded

  • By Akhel Mathew, Correspondent
  • Published: 15:28 September 23, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Bloomberg News
  • Air India is facing stinging criticism as hundreds pf passengers bound for the Middle East and other destinations were stranded at different airports on Saturday in Kerala.

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.

Comments (14)

  1. Added 18:28 September 24, 2012

    I came across many bad experiences with Air India previously. Now I am having peace of mind in my vacation and business travels, as I am fully avoiding AIR INDIA, since last few years. Really I am saving my money and precious time. Avoid Air India. Let them improve their customer service and customer experience.

    Sahim, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

  2. Added 12:50 September 24, 2012

    It is a mystery as to how the sudden shortage of planes arise. Air India express reduced their schedule to almost 50% from mid August. Using the planes for Haj passengers is a very recent issue. Many of the passengers like to travel from Dubai on Thursday night so as to make use of the weekend. But Air India is not flying on that day to Cochin! Also they have changed to timings so inconvenient for families , people staying far from airports etc..Steep prices on other airlines still force poor NRIs to resort to Air India Express. only hope is on few other private budget airlines waiting for flying rights in these sectors. Till then Air India Express can have their fun

    varghese, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 11:41 September 24, 2012

    " aviation minister had agreed to personally visit Kerala to apprise himself of the difficulties faced by air travellers" whats the point in visiting kerela to get apprised of the difficulties faced by helpless passengers it is a known fact and its so obvious to all, the problems faced, let him make sure to restore the service with immediate effect let him not waste precious money and time of the Government

    freddy, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 11:01 September 24, 2012

    Indian Government run Air India will never improve their service. There is no respect/value for the passengers. Private AirLines should increase their flights.

    Bala, Bangalore, India

  5. Added 10:48 September 24, 2012

    There was a time only Air India was operating to CCJ I remember I paid more than Aed 2000 for return ticket now when there are plenty of airlines operating to Kerala why should we choose Air India even if its a 500 aed difference

    Fasal, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 10:23 September 24, 2012

    iam not at all happy with Air India service. the worst air service in the world.

    anju, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 10:17 September 24, 2012

    Air India has a lot to learn as it's mainly facing cockpit crew issues. The state proposed Air Kerala brings hope among many Keralities and waiting for it. Till then, I prefer Emirates or other carriers such as Jet Airways or Air Arabia.

    John Timberg, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 10:09 September 24, 2012

    People are missing the point here, which is that these flights were diverted for Haj, as Air India does not have sufficient flights. Funny to see issue being highlighted as injustice to Keralites from India.

    sunny varghese mathew, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 10:08 September 24, 2012

    I have travelled once from Dubai to CCJ in this airline which was cancelled due to engine trouble and I spent my valuable 1 and half day at DXB air port. that was my last trip. I took an oath that I never sit in this aircraft even if its a free trip. after that I was travelling frequently in EK which is exellent in service, so dont blame Air India after keeping your head under the wheel blame your self. If any body is suffering from postponed trip or cancel trip you are lucky because this is worth of your money. I belive you may learn from experiance.

    Fava, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 09:51 September 24, 2012

    No - how can one become a frequent flyer with their notoriious cancellation without notice tacticis? Starting from my first flight in 1978, till recenlty, whenever I have travelled their flights I had to endure many a hardhip. What I fail to understand is - when flights like Air Arabia, who are comparatively junior, can effective run the show, why not the Air India elites? My suggestion is to change the present system, make all those employees accountable. Should place earnest ones at the helm of affairs and no undue interrruptions should be allowed from politicians or bureaucrats.

    Gopakumar, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

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