Heavy fog blankets the Indira Gandhi International Airport on a chilly winter morning in New Delhi. Numerous flights are facing delays, with some even canceled, owing to widespread fog across various parts of India. Image Credit: ANI

Even by the not very exacting standards of the Indian flyer, this is not acceptable. A passenger punched a flight’s captain as he was announcing a flight delay, one of hundreds as North India is hit by peak fog conditions.

The air traveller has shown his entitled side several times earlier, whether it was insulting the air hostess, urinating on a seat, or getting into a brawl with another passenger but assaulting the pilot of a flight, no matter the circumstances- and they were not favourable- must rank as the ugliest episode yet.

While the man and his actions need to be condemned wholeheartedly, it is also imperative to look at how there has been a complete breakdown of air travel in the capital, Delhi, as well as in airports suffering the ripple effect of its backlog.

The incident took place on an Indigo flight to Goa which was reportedly delayed by thirteen hours, a hold- up that cannot be dismissed casually.

Over the last few days, irate passengers have been sharing their experiences of not just being stuck endlessly inside a plane but of also being packed like sardines at aerobridges for hours. The scenes have been unruly and an abject failure of any sort of arrangements by the various stakeholders.

Commuters move through the dense fog on a cold winter morning, in New Delhi Image Credit: ANI

The inclement weather in the North has predictably put all schedules out of gear and while no one has control over nature, airlines are obligated not just to communicate with their passengers but to also treat them better. Indigo, with a 60% share in the market is low-cost carrier that promises to reach its destination even before time on normal days.

Of late, neither are its rates competitive nor is its efficiency a given. A monopoly whether of airport ownership or an airline may make for profitable business but disregards the mantra of customer first who is paying for service not rendered.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

Quick boarding of passengers in the hope that the flight gets a green light as soon as fog clears may be good intentioned but remains flawed especially with no access to water or food for hours.

Deboarding is painful for airlines and a further delay as security clearance needs to be repeated but keeping passengers hostage for ten hours demands answers.

The train traveller perhaps is just conditioned; the flyer is not so easily soothed


Airlines like Indigo have also been accused of lack of transparency and not communicating with passengers, they get away with this behaviour since it attracts no penalty.

But it is not just the airlines, the challenge is also at the airport. Delhi has 4 runaways and any closure of the Cat III certified runway- that allows for precision landing in low visibility- during this period leads to the chaos. It is not as though the aviation ministry, and the airports are unaware of the weather conditions, but since September the only CAT-III compliant runway was closed for repairs.

In another runway, bafflingly, operations were shut down reportedly due to a crane at a construction site on its far side disrupting flight signals. With such bizarre operational efficiency, we haven’t even reached the issue of whether there are sufficient pilots trained to land amid low visibility.

Read more by Jyotsna Mohan

Standard operating procedure

Cynics will point to how passengers of the maze that is Indian railways have for decades patiently accepted train delays rarely losing their temper and how rail traffic continues as though it is business as usual, the fog has also sent its schedule awry. The train traveller perhaps is just conditioned; the flyer is not so easily soothed.

The government once promised to make train stations on par with Indian airports. Whether that happens or not, ironically airports, definitely Delhi this January resembles a railway station. As did the tarmac of Mumbai airport where in unprecedented scenes passengers were seen sitting on the ground and eating after their flight was diverted!

More than 48 hours after the crisis, once there was no hiding from the avalanche of social media posts by angry passengers, aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia announced measures to control the chaos. In true Indian fashion, the stable door was locked once the horse had bolted.

A standard operating procedure has been issued, looking at the firefighting it is as though winter fog in the North is a rare celestial spectacle and not something that comes like clockwise every December/January.

The measures though are welcome including the requisite for airlines to publish real-time information and keep passengers updated with questions on whether flights delayed for more than three hours should still be on standby. But to ask passengers to contact airlines may be easier said than done and passing the buck again.

The weather forecast for the upcoming days is also bleak, hopefully both airlines and airports won’t take the passengers for any more rides.