New Delhi: Air India Express has been suffering an image crisis for some time now, especially at its home base of Kerala. But today’s hijack scare at Thiruvananthapuram is one incident which is sure to push it further back in perception ratings.
Allegations are that the airline left 165 passengers in the lurch, with no information or food, for several hours when its Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight was diverted to Thiruvananthapuram this morning due to bad weather.
And that the pilot, a lady, triggered a hijack alarm when passengers became unruly.
There is no real confirmation of whether passengers indeed entered the cockpit or if they tried to mis-behave with the pilot or crew. Similarly, there is no confirmation about whether the pilot herself pressed the panic button – the hijack alert in this case – or if it was an alert given by the airport officials present.
But one thing is clear: passengers are getting shriller by the day without many of them realising how an airline is also constrained by rules and regulations when it leaves them to suffer endless hours inside a stuffy aircraft with no food or even water.
An aviation expert points out that given Kerala’s weather at this time of the year, it is not unusual for flights to be diverted to Thiruvananthapuram so the pilot was not erring in diverting the fight.
They also say that passengers were perhaps waiting inside the aircraft for many hours because the flight landed, Flight Duty Time LImitations (FDTL) of pilots and crew must have got triggered.
This refers to the number of flight hours after which pilots and crew must necessarily be rested as per regulations of DGCA.
A fresh set of crew and pilots have now taken the aircraft back to Kochi.
“Arrival of a fresh set of crew and pilots would take long. Thiruvananthapuram is not an AI Express base so pilots and crew are not stationed there, readily available for a sudden deployment. So, all this would have taken time,” experts in Thiruvananthapuram told Firstpost.
But why did the airline not allow passengers to de-board and rest in an airport lounge for such a long time?
This expert pointed out that usually, an international flight which has been diverted does not allow deplaning of passengers because it involves a lot of hassle.
“If passengers are de-boarded until the crew arrives, they have to go through the immigration and customs process all over again. Their passports have to be stamped again and new boarding cards have to be issued again. Even internationally, passengers in diverted flights are not allowed to deplane,” this expert said.
So did the passengers overreact? Obviously, even if they could not have been allowed to leave the aircraft, they were entitled to some food and water. And basic courtesy from the crew and the pilot.
Another aviation expert said what happened today seemed like a clear case of miscommunication.
A passenger spoke to CNN IBN and denied that any passenger tried to enter the cockpit of the plane or threaten the pilot in any way.
He also said passengers were unaware of any hijack alert. But then, passengers are not supposed to know if a hijack alert had been sounded.
An aviation security expert told the TV channel that action could be taken against the pilot for triggering a false alarm since no hijack threat can be sounded when the plane is on the ground. It remains to be seen how aviation regulator DGCA views this entire episode.