By Dheeraj Kumar*
Patna: In all 10 flights were cancelled leaving several passengers stranded at the Patna airport on Saturday 30th December. Informed sources told this correspondent that cancellation of flights has become more a rule than exception. A source at the Air Traffic Control said that many flights were cancelled or diverted in the last 5-6 days due to inclement weather.
Frequent and abrupt cancellation of flights has turned air travel into a nightmare for air passengers in Patna. Information is also trickling slow as passengers can be seen demonstrating against airlines in full volume.
In face of this, the Jaya Prakash Narayan airport is offering more a sight of a railway station as suitcases and bags are strewn all over. “But even railway stations have waiting rooms and retiring rooms for the passengers,” rued a passenger.
Majority of passengers who had no relatives in Patna are increasingly left with no option but to find hotel rooms afresh. “Airlines did not provide prior information about the cancellation of flight and we checked out from our hotel but now again we have to find another hotel room,” said a stranded passenger.
On Saturday, as chaos prevailed in the airport, what further compounded the problem was the fact that the airlines companies increasingly washed their hands of the passengers’ plight.
For example, though they least expected it from a private airlines, Indigo Airlines did it nonchalantly leaving its passenger Nikasha Kumar and her two children in lurch. They were to catch the 7.20 pm flight (6E-6325) for New Delhi on Saturday. But after they had already checked out of their hotel, they received the text message that their flight was cancelled. They were informed that the next flight was on the next day but the airlines refused to entertain their request for a hotel accommodation on ground that they were not ‘authorised’ to do that.
“We keep running helter-skelter at the airport They just sent an sms and that’s it. Is that the only responsibility they have? They have to make alternate arrangements…passengers should be given some alternative accommodation, some facilities for the stranded passengers… (but) they didn’t display any empathy. Well empathy is a big word to even expect I think this was a very apathetic kind of behavior,” Nikasha said.
An Indigo official though claimed of providing all possible assistance to the stranded passengers and went on to point out how Indigo had booked tickets of Nikasha and her two children Ahhana Verma and Kiyarra Verma on next day`s afternoon flight without “any additional charge”.
Like Nikisha and her young daughters, several other passengers were left to fend for themselves. Majority of passengers, who reached the airlines counter at Patna Airport were simply amazed at Indigo`s explanation.Virtually all of them were at their wits’ end as none of them could get a convincing reply from airlines why they had not been provided alternative accommodation.
When this correspondent approached an Indigo official, he sought to downplay the issue of accommodation by saying that the airlines provides it to needy people but refusing to elaborate who really falls in the category of needy.
Pankaj Sinha, manager of a five star hotel, Maurya, said no airlines took the trouble to bear the cost of stay of its passenger due to cancellation of flight. He said that on average 4-5 guest were checking-in per day for the last few days due to cancellation of flights.
As it is, flight operations at Patna Airport have simply gone haywire due to fog. But even in normal weather condition, landing and take-off from Patna Airport has always been a difficult proposition. Patna Airport has been listed as one of the country’s most critical airports due to its short runway. Of its 2,286m runway, only 1,954m actually remains available for use by the pilot for take-off due to the location constraints of the airport. There is little scope for extending the runway as the airport has Peer Ali Path on its northern side and the Delhi-Howrah railway line on the southern side.
Nikisha said: “I think it is not only the problem of just the airline but also the airport authorities. Patna being a smaller city, a two-tier city, is not given so much of importance and the airport is also not well equipped. That also could be one of the reasons why flight has been cancelled…”
Incidentally plans are afoot to use Indian Air Force`s Bihta Airbase for the purpose of civil aviation. But it seems a distant pipedream as of now. Officials though claim that it is expected to be operational over in a year’s time. However, what is also required is empathetic airline staff.
*The writer is a Patna-based senior journalist