MALAPPURAM: Two Air India Express flights took off several hours prior to their scheduled departure time, leaving around 80 gulf-bound passengers stranded at the Kozhikode airport on Sunday. Sources with Air India Express said the airline had sent emails on Saturday night informing travellers about the rescheduling of flights to Doha (IX 373) and Sharjah (IX 351).
However, passengers said they were caught unawares as many did not receive the email that was sent after 10pm. A passenger even received a message on her phone at 11 am on Sunday, informing that the flight's departure time was rescheduled to 7:30 am. Several passengers had to reach their destinations early to join duty on Monday.
The Doha flight departed 5 hours and 25 minutes and the Sharjah flight 3 hours and 35 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. The IX 373 flight was scheduled to take off from Kozhikode at 12.05pm. However, it left for Doha at 6.40am.
The flight to Sharjah was scheduled to depart from Kozhikode at 11.05am, but it took off at 7.30am. The passengers had heated arguments with the airline staff to reschedule their journey without additional cost.
The staff initially offered to fly them without any additional charge on Wednesday. But the passengers to Doha who had to rejoin duty immediately refused it. After arguments, the staff agreed that some passengers would be allowed to travel on Monday.
'Airline's irresponsible act has landed many in trouble'
The airline also arranged flights for two passengers to Abu Dhabi on Sunday itself. The incident would also come as an embarrassment to Tata Group which recently took over Air India and Air India Express.
"I'm a teacher working at Ajman. I booked a ticket to Sharjah and have to join duty at 8am on Monday. I didn’t get any email as claimed by the airline.Many passengers like me who have to join duty on Monday are in trouble because of the irresponsible act of the airline. The airline should have contacted us over phone and told us about the change,"said Benaseer V, a passenger.
"Many people from Malabar who do not use email facilities work in gulf region. Even if the airline sends emails, how will such people read it. The airline should have talked to the passengers over phone about the schedule change," he added.
An official with the Kozhikode airport said the airline does not telephone passengers to inform them about the change in the departure time. "Earlier, the airline staff used to contact them over the phone to inform about rescheduling. But these days, the passengers get auto-generated messages about the change to their phone numbers or email addresses."
Malabar Development Forum (MDF), an organisation working for the development of Kozhikode airport, said the airline failed to inform the passengers about the change in schedule at least 24 hours before the departure. "Informing passengers about the change a few hours before the take off is not the right practice. We will protest against the irresponsible behaviour of the Air India Express," said KM Basheer, president of MDF.
"Operating a flight early without properly informing the passengers should be considered a violation of human rights. The people who missed the flight on Sunday might also be facing visa cancellation issues," said Basheer.
Air India Express authorities in Kozhikode, including its spokesperson, refused to comment on the issue, though The New Indian Express contacted them over phone multiple times.