Thiruvananthapuram: Confusion and concern prevailed at the Thiruvananthapuram airport this morning after a heated debate between irate passengers of an Air India Express flight and the pilot of the aircraft led to the latter sending out a hijack alarm. Reports said he took to that step because some passengers threatened to force their way into the cockpit. But some passengers told a television channel that there was only a verbal dual and that none had tried to enter the cockpit.

The Air India Express flight No 4422 from Abu Dhabi to Kochi had landed here early this morning after being diverted towards the end of its journey which should have ended in Kochi. The diversion happened owing to bad weather in Kochi. Angry passengers, who had to spend hours on end, vented their ire, which apparently triggered the action by the pilot. Some experts familiar with aircraft operations said passengers could not have entered the cockpit because it has a number-code lock.

The flight should have landed in Kochi at 3.30 am today, but it was kept waiting at the airport here, even as passengers complained that they were not served food and water, besides having to endure the lack of proper air-conditioning.

Some reports said that the authorities had promised to take the flight to Kochi when the weather conditions improved but had later told them that the passengers would have to make their own arrangements for that. That version was later changed again.

There were around 200 passengers including a number of women and children in the flight, and the flight had taken off late from Abu Dhabi, too. When it was further delayed through the diversion to Thiruvananthapuram, passengers vented their anger.

Air travelers from Kerala have been frequently complaining about the services of the national carrier, particularly in recent months. Last month, Air India abruptly cancelled over 160 flights, which led to a major outburst from passengers. The explanation given on that occasion was that the aircraft were being diverted to Uttar Pradesh to carry Haj pilgrims from that state.

Disheartened by the national carrier’s services, particularly in the Gulf sector, the Kerala government has mooted launching its own airline under the brand name Air Kerala, with equity participation from the public.