BENGALURU: A little over 100 of the 161 passengers on board an Air India flight (AI 263), heading from New Delhi to Male via Thiruvananthapuram, were stranded for three hours at Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) here after a delayed departure from Thiruvananthapuram. The reason: the pilot and co-pilot had to wind up duty.
The passengers reached Male 10 hours late after a different aircraft and crew were arranged.
The pilot stood along with the crew when passengers were entering the flight at Thiruvananthapuram and told them the flight was heading to Bengaluru and not Male, passengers told TNIE. They were assured that a flight from Bengaluru will take them to Male within half-an-hour after they reached Bengaluru.
An Air India spokesperson said, “Due to foggy conditions, flight No. 263, which was to leave Delhi at 5.50 am, was able to take off only at 7.20 am. Hence, it reached Thiruvananthapuram late.” Due to Flight Data Time Limit rules, a pilot can only be allotted duty for a fixed number of hours. “So, a decision was taken to divert the flight to Bengaluru so that the crew on board could be substituted with fresh flying crew,” the spokesperson said.
“Air India took good care of its passengers by giving them snacks and refreshments,” the spokesperson claimed. A senior aviation official said DGCA rules are stringent and a pilot is permitted duty time of only 8-9 hours in the interest of passenger safety. “If it is learnt that any pilot has exceeded the hours, licences will be suspended and the airlines will also face the music,” he said.
Passengers stranded at KIA were upset with the disruption of their schedule. Subash Fernando, an exporter of vegetables and fruits to Male from Thiruvananthapuram was highly agitated as his appointment with the Ministry of Maldives in connection with a business deal could not be met. “I am sure never before in aviation history would this have happened.
While some passengers were informed as they were boarding the flight that it would go to Bengaluru, I was not even told that. After I was seated and just before departure, I heard the pilot announcing the flight was heading to Bengaluru!”
“There was a lot of commotion among passengers but the cabin crew assured that there would be only a half-hour delay in our journey due to this sudden change. To our shock, crew did not change immediately at Bengaluru. Instead, we were all deboarded,” he added.
Another flier, Adam Sharief, a businessman from Maldives, said, “The pilot clearly told us that he was not permitted to fly beyond eight hours. After we landed, we were taken near the immigration gates. For half-an-hour, no one was allowed to even shift from the seats we were occupying. We were not even allowed to use the toilets.” After some time, the passengers were given manual boarding passes, attached to their existing boarding passes, and they were allowed inside the airport after, Sharief added.