Nearly 600 passengers stranded at Heathrow after two Air India flights to Mumbai fail to take off

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LONDON: The Metropolitan Police had to be called to Heathrow Airport late Wednesday after nearly 300 furious passengers were left stranded airside after their Air India flight which was already 32 hours delayed failed to take off.

One of the passengers, British group HR director Heather Gupta, told TOI there was “utter chaos” when passengers cleared customs and security only to be given no gate and no details of any airplane to board. Small children and the elderly, some in wheelchairs, were among them, with passengers left furious as some had already missed weddings, cremations and important business meetings back in India.

Gupta, 49, who was travelling with her two sons, Jake, 8 and Noah, 6, told TOI at 23.30 local time Wednesday: “There was one Air India rep and she has disappeared now. Passengers are going crazy. This flight was supposed to go yesterday [Tuesday] and so there is a bunch of really irate people and just one Air India lady who is absolutely clueless. It is mental and no one has any idea what is going on.”

A video shared with TOI shows passengers shouting at a lone member of staff from Heathrow and a group of firearms officers then arriving.

A Met Police spokeswoman told TOI at midnight local time Wednesday: “Officers are on scene as a precautionary measure and to prevent any breach of the peace. There has been no disorder and no arrests.”

Around midnight the passengers were ushered back through immigration and taken to another hotel with no information as to when they could fly.

Nearly 600 passengers travelling between London and Mumbai had been stranded in an airport hotel all day on Wednesday, leaving them exhausted and angry.

A total of 293 passengers from the 13.15 Air India Flight on Tuesday, 28 May had been forced to spend the night at the hotel after their flight was grounded because of a fuel leak. They had spent all day Wednesday in the room at the hotel, provided by Air India, but said they were given no information from Air India as to when they could fly and no refund.

Then the 13.15 Air India flight on Wednesday also did not take off and those passengers were sent to the same hotel room. One Air India woman spoke at them through a megaphone on Wednesday and said: “The engineers are working on the aircraft. I will update you whatever update they give me.”

The passengers were later told that a team of aircraft engineers were due in London on a flight from Mumbai on Wednesday – itself delayed – due to land at 19.00. This team was bringing parts to repair the 28 May aircraft so those passengers could depart at 22.00. But that never happened.

The delayed 29 May flight however eventually departed at 21.30 Wednesday eight hours late.

Passengers complained to TOI there was no information from Air India staff throughout the ordeal.

Albashi Baig, 24, a student in London, was flying home to be in a hospital in Thane for his 60-year-old father’s cardio-surgery, taking place Wednesday night.

But he was on the Tuesday flight which was grounded.

Almost in tears he told TOI how had begged Air India to get him on another flight but they did not. “Noone in Air India was picking up the phone and we went to the airport and they told me to buy a new ticket costing up to £1,800 (Rs 1.5 lakh) one way. I am so upset as I wanted to be with my father to give support.”

Baig said another passenger was desperate to get to his sister on a ventilator, one’s father had died and he could not get to the cremation and one had missed a connecting flight to Australia where his wife had had an accident.

Passengers were informed at 12.30 pm on Tuesday that the 13.14 AI130 flight was just delayed, but then at 18.30 were told to collect their luggage. Indian passengers were then caught in a long queue at UK arrivals immigration despite having not flown anywhere. “It was chaos trying to get luggage on to the hotel bus”, said Gupta, who lives in Mumbai and missed an important work meeting. “One family had 10 suitcases and one elderly woman in a wheelchair could not get on it.”

Gupta had flown to London last Friday to collect her children who had spent two weeks with her UK relatives. She had spent Rs 6 lakh in total on tickets for the trip since Rs 2.5 lakh had gone on Jet Airways tickets which were cancelled. “Passengers are really angry. I met one Indian whose father is in a coma in India and another who has missed a wedding,” she said. “Another who is on a two-day business trip. Some passengers flying from US and Canada are worried as their 24-hour transit visas have expired.”

Speaking to TOI earlier in the day, Debashis Golder, regional Manager UK & Europe, Air India said: ”AI130 of 28th May is declared AOG (grounded) due to a fuel leak and expected to go today [Wednesday] by 2200 hours. ”

But by midnight the flight had not departed.

“AI130 of 29th is delayed and will go at 2000 hours,” Golder had said. That flight left at 21.30. “If not atravelling and seeking refunds they will get a full refund. Our team is with passengers in the hotel and updating them regularly,” he added.

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