Etihad passengers to Mumbai face 15-hour ordeal (Lead)

June 14th, 2008 - 5:58 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 14 (IANS) Some 250 passengers, including children, travelling by Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai had to endure a six-hour wait inside the aircraft here without food or water, after a harrowing, nine-hour delay at departure in the UAE capital. The passengers, mostly Indians coming from Europe and the US, boarded the flight at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Abu Dhabi after a nine-hour delay but had to wait another six hours inside the aircraft at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here, before taking off to Mumbai.

Officials of the UAE carrier told passengers that the delay in Abu Dhabi was due to “technical problems”. Once over India, the passengers were informed that the flight did not get permission to land in Mumbai due to congestion.

As a result, the flight was diverted to the Indian capital.

“We protested when we were being taken to Delhi. But we were told some aviation procedures have to be followed,” said Colonel (retd.) Prakash Khandekar, who was among the passengers. “There were 40 children inside,” he told IANS.

A spokesperson for Etihad based in Mumbai, Neerja Bhatia, first told IANS that she was not aware of the incident but later said: “We will get back.”

Subsequent calls to her went unanswered.

According to Khandekar, Etihad officials told the passengers to spend a night in a hotel and that they would be flown to Mumbai by the next flight. “But we were in no mood for any more harassment, he said.

“Some of us met the airport manager in Delhi. Others remained inside the plane. Eventually, we boarded an Air India plane to Mumbai. We finally reached Mumbai at 9 a.m.,” the former army official said.

“A journey that should have taken just four-and-a-half hours took 23 hours,” he said, adding the flight was to take of at 10:15 a.m. Friday and reach Mumbai the same day at 2:45 p.m.

He said all the passengers have asked for compensation from Etihad Airways for the “ordeal and ill treatment” meted to them. “There should be a law to prevent them from playing around with passengers. We should all be compensated.”

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