XP_120612_AIR INDIA XPRESS Air India has been sending e-mail notice informing people that flihts has been cancelled. PHOTO:FRANCOIS NEL

DUBAI: Holiday plans of hundreds of UAE residents have been ruined following mass cancellations of flights by Indian budget carrier Air India Express.

“Don’t fly Air India Express till things stabilise. I am advising friends and relatives who have booked flights from July onwards to cancel them,” a senior Air India official based in New Delhi told XPRESS.

He said the last-minute cancellations were due to the ongoing strike by around 350 Air India pilots which entered the 37th day on Wednesday, crippling the national carrier’s operations worldwide.

“Things are bad,” said the official, adding that both short and long haul flights were affected.

Enquiries at the Dubai office of Air India Express revealed they had a flight schedule only till June 30. “We have no information about flights from July 1,” a staff said.

But passengers are not amused.

A family of six based in Sharjah had booked a return ticket to Mumbai for July 6 for Dh6,582 in April. “On June 12, we got an e-mail saying the flight had been cancelled and we can either modify the affected segment or get a refund. Why on good earth would we want to ‘modify the segment’ and go elsewhere when we want to go to Mumbai?” asked the head of the family.

“My wife hasn’t seen her younger sister for years and she was looking forward for a family reunion planned months in advance. Relatives from Canada are also coming.”

Worse, he said, “the online system doesn’t allow us to reschedule our flight, leaving us with no option but to seek a refund and book tickets with a different airline. Of course, this will put a strain on our budget. The Jet Airways flight to Mumbai costs around Dh14,000, Air Arabia Dh9,000 and Spice Jet Dh8,500 [for six people]. If that was not bad enough, a friend has told me that it takes Air India Express up to three months to refund a ticket. I tried calling their UAE offices many times, but there is no response. Mails to their customer care also remain unanswered.”

blocked money

Another Indian expat who booked three tickets for June 28 from Dubai to Lucknow was informed that flight IX193 has been cancelled due to “operational reasons”.

“I changed the tickets to July 5 but today I bought three tickets for a Fly Dubai flight as a precaution because I fear that even the July 5 flight will be cancelled,” he said. “Because of this mess by Air India Express I had to spend over Dh6,500 on the tickets.”

He added: “I will cancel the Air India Express tickets but I am not sure when they will refund my money. My holiday plans are ruined as my money will remain blocked.”

The sentiment was echoed by many others, even as they saw no end to the deepening crisis.

Air India operates 207 flights (102 Air India and 105 Air India Express) from the UAE to 16 destinations with 111 aircraft whose average age is five-and-a-half years. But the crisis at Air India has affected many of these flights.

While the exact number could not be ascertained from their regional office in Dubai, the official from India said, “In the last 30 days, hundreds of flights have been cancelled on various routes. Air India Express pilots are on deputation from Air India.”

He said the airline had terminated services of 100 pilots so far with the remaining 250 determined not to come back until they were reinstated.

The pilots have called in sick since May 7 to protest against the decision to train pilots from Indian Airlines for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

“There is no short-term solution to this problem. Even if the pilots come back to work today, it will take months for things to return to normalcy,” the Air India official added.