Kozhikode/New Delhi: It always happens to other people. Or so I thought. Until my flight from balmy Kozhikode to fogged-out Delhi was delayed thrice, took off at 12.35 am and then circled over the national capital for close to two hours before landing in almost zero visibility conditions.
I reached home on Monday around 6 am, tired, cold, a little traumatised after the night-long ordeal and ‘awake’ to the realisation that I was one of the lucky ones.
Hundreds of passengers, some old and ailing, others with babies and small children, were stuck at airports across the country with their flights delayed by up to 13 hours, diverted or simply cancelled.
As a thick blanket of fog descends over much of north India, particularly Delhi, the very act of taking a flight is edged with uncertainty. It’s an every-winter story and one that I featured in this year.
Travelling with me on IndGo flight 6E 5912 that was delayed by three hours - the airline thankfully kept us in the loop with messages - were several luminaries, including Turkish Ambassador to India Fırat Sunel, historian William Dalrymple, and children's author Shobha Tharoor. All of us returning from the Kerala Literature Festival.
After many hours of waiting, multiple glasses of coconut water, trying to catch up on sleep and wondering if and when we would ever get to our destination, we were exhausted. But this was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg we realised soon enough.
Flight operations in north India have been affected following low visibility due to dense fog conditions. The cascade effect results in flight disruptions in several other states as well. Scores of flights were disrupted on Tuesday too.
On Monday morning, at least 168 flights were delayed and nearly 100 cancelled at the Delhi airport alone.
Tempers ran high - at airports, on board and on social media platforms.
An IndiGo passenger -- identified as Sahil Kataria - was arrested after he assaulted a pilot while he was making an announcement inside the aircraft that the flight to Goa waiting to take off at Delhi was further delayed. The incident, in which a woman flight attendant broke down and asked the passenger how he could be so aggressive, took place Sunday evening.
Videos of the incident were circulated widely on social media. The flight took off from Delhi after a delay of more than 10 hours, according to flight tracking website flightradar24.
And in more signs of air passengers at the absolute end of their tether, many people rushed out of an IndiGo aircraft at Mumbai airport, some sitting on the tarmac and eating food as their diverted Goa-Delhi flight landed after a long delay on Sunday.
As photographs and video clips were distributed on social media, aviation security watchdog BCAS issued show cause notices to IndiGo and Mumbai airport operator MIAL over the incident, official sources said on Tuesday.
The sources said the aircraft was allotted a remote bay C-33 instead of a Contact Stand, an aircraft parking stand that is suitable for walking passengers to and from an aircraft from an allocated boarding gate. This further added to passenger woes and deprived them of the opportunity to avail basic facilities like restrooms and refreshments at the terminal, they added.
Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia also held a meeting with all ministry officials to discuss the matter. In a statement on Monday, he said the government is taking a slew of steps to improve the situation and assured people that all stakeholders are “working round the clock to minimise the fog-related impact”.
"It is my earnest request to all travellers to bear with us during this difficult period,” he posted on X.
The stories were plenty.
An Air India flight from Calicut to Mumbai was delayed by more than 12 hours - from 6.50 pm on Sunday to 8.30 am on Monday.
"It was a nightmare. First, we were told our flight had been rescheduled to 9.55 pm and later around 10-10.30 pm, after asking the staff multiple times, they told us that it would now take off tomorrow at 7.35 am.
"To top it all, we, who were made to wait at the airport since 4 pm, were told to leave the airport premises without giving any assurance about our accommodation for the night. We really have to put our foot down to get the accommodation, even then it was not provided to all," passenger Anshika Verma told PTI.
Many vented their ire on X. Visuals of long queues at airports, some sitting or lying on the floor waiting to get updates on their flight status did the round of various social media platforms.
In a lengthy post on X on Monday, actor Ranvir Shorey called out IndiGo for an alleged 10 delay, claiming the staff "lied" to him about the holdup citing bad weather issues. The 51-year-old actor, desperate to get to his child, did not name the airport.
"... Our flight took off at around midnight, 10 hours after the scheduled time of the flight! We will be filing a complaint for the trauma we have been doled out yesterday by @IndiGo6E in the name of air travel," said the Mumbai-based actor.
The "Khosla Ka Ghosla" actor alleged that the aircraft didn't have a pilot assigned for the flight he and seven friends were travelling in.
Later, an IndiGo spokesperson said the team is "actively working" to address his concern.
Last week, actors Radhika Apte and Surbhi Chandna also shared their air travel ordeal on social media.
While Apte claimed she was among several passengers who were locked in an aerobridge for hours after their flight was delayed, Chandna slammed another air carrier for allegedly "offloading" her luggage and "mentally torturing" her.
"... Today morning I had a flight at 8:30. It's 10:50 now and the flight has still not boarded. But the flight said we were boarding and put all the passengers in the aerobridge and LOCKED IT! The passengers with small babies, elderly people have been locked in for over an hour," wrote Apte while sharing pictures of herself and the co-passengers squatting on the aerobridge.
Indigo and Air India issued statements following the severe backlash by their respective customers for their poor handling of flights.
While Air India said they are "working hard to restore schedules", and sincerely regret the inconvenience" caused to its passengers, Indigo assured people that it has "sufficient CAT III qualified pilots" and argued that the number of diversion cases "represents a very small fraction" of the 2,000 daily flights operated by them.
"We are putting in every effort to minimize inconvenience to passengers in the event of flight disruption due to bad weather," read the statement from IndiGo.