“Due to last-minute non-availability of a landing/parking slot at Heathrow Airport, which was communicated to us late in the evening of September 16, the flight from Kolkata could not be operated directly. This was something beyond our control as we had been assured of a slot. The flight did depart from Kolkata after a delay as it had to fly via Delhi. The same aircraft with a brief stopover at Delhi left for London as the scheduled Delhi-London VBM flight with passengers joining from Delhi, slots for which were available at Heathrow. We will be in a position to operate the direct flights to London from Kolkata when the slot is restored. Till then, passengers from Kolkata will continue to fly via Delhi,” an Air India spokesperson.
Aviation industry veterans said it was unusual for an airport to withdraw the slot for a return flight. Sources said the action could have been triggered by the poor load. Flight AI-1150 from London to Kolkata had flown in with just 14 passengers. “Perhaps, the airport felt it wise to allocate the slot to another carrier that would fly in a couple of hundred passengers,” a veteran captain said.
TOI had on Thursday reported the utter confusion at Heathrow over the mandatory Covid-test requirement for passengers flying to Kolkata. A dozen passengers were not allowed to board the flight because they did not have the Covid-negative report. The passengers alleged that they were not informed about the requirement with one even saying he was misguided. AI has denied the allegations.
The return leg threw up even more confusion with the airline announcing that the flight would go via Delhi and then pushing back the departure from 6.30am to 10am. Some passengers learnt of the change after reaching the airport.
“I haven’t seen such mismanagement. None informed us about the change in schedule. We reached the airport around 1.30am. But on arrival, we learnt the flight would take off at 10am. We had to sit outside the airport for hours till the gates opened for a Dubaibound flight and then we sat in the security hold area and waited for several hours more. It is so frustrating and exhausting to begin a journey like this,” said Gayatri Sinha Roy (85), who was heading to her home in Central London from a relative’s home in Ballygunge.
Flight AI-1150 from London with only 14 passengers on board and 11 crew members reached the airport at 1.30am on Thursday. “We practically had the entire flight to ourselves. Although we were booked on two Economy class tickets, my husband and I could fly while sleeping in separate rows of seats as there were hardly any passengers. Social distancing was not an issue at all and we had one dedicated attendant taking care of us through the flight,” said Anju Shukla, who was stuck at her son’s place in London since February this year.
Majority of passengers who missed their flight to Kolkata from London on Wednesday flew to Delhi in a separate repatriation flight on Thursday morning. They said they will stay in quarantine for a week before flying to Kolkata. “We had a hotel room booked for 14 days for our family in New Town. But since we were not allowed to fly without the Covid-negative report, we flew to Delhi,” said Sumanta Sarathi Chakraborty, a software engineer.
Around 7.45pm on Thursday evening, a SpiceJet flight from Dubai landed at Kolkata airport with 162 passengers.
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