More than 300 passengers on Air India’s flight 317 from Delhi to Mumbai had a terrible after taste of Delhi’s sweltering heat. They were forced to undergo a 2-hour journey with no air conditioning on board.
Passengers spoke of the aircraft feeling like a “sauna bath chamber.” The air conditioning was not working even when passengers boarded the double-deck, wide-bodied Boeing 747 which took off five hours behind schedule. But even in the face of passengers’ complaints the crew got the go-ahead from Captain SK Jha to board the gates and the flight took off with no air conditioning. Among the passengers was a couple travelling with their four-month-old son, who began to get extremely restless as the plane got claustrophobic. When the couple who live in NOIDA asked the flight attendant for help, they were told that the crew would handle the situation “if the baby fell unconscious”.
The couple, from Noida, is sending a complaint to Maneesh Sharma, the minister of state for civil aviation. “The airhostesses were rude, uncouth, and discourteous,” said Vijay Goel, the infant’s father.
Monday’s incident comes as a massive embarrassment for the national carrier’s chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani, who just two days ago, wrote a lengthy note to his staff, urging them to ensure that “passengers always have a good experience with Air India”.
One of the flyers, Ritesh Kumar who heads strategy for INX media, said that the vents were blowing hot air, by the time the passengers were seated and the problem only got worse. “When we approached the cabin crew, they kept insisting that everything would be fine,” Kumar said.
A majority of the passengers insisted on deplaning and even marched up to the doors, leading to a heated argument with the cabin crew. “It was past 4 am when we demanded that we wanted to get off the plane but the captain, who identified himself as SK Jha, ordered that the doors be shut,” Kumar said.
London-based IT professional Nehal Mehta, who was traveling with his wife Sancheta and their nine-year-old son, said that the cabin crew did not serve water “even once” to the suffocating passengers despite complaints of dry throats and nor did they seem particularly empathetic.
“There was no apology for either delay or the non-functioning air conditioners. We were travelling to Mumbai for our son’s visa appointment, and got delayed because of the problem,” Mehta said. Sancheta added that all the passengers refused snacks to mark their protest.
Delhi residents a certain M Shah and Hemant Brar have already sent separate complaint letters to the airline management and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. One of the AI crew members this newspaper spoke to said that a few Boeing 747s that Air India operated have reported problems in the AC units. “Complaints about AC on Boeing 747s are common. These planes are flying on a minimum equipment list,” an airline source said.
Despite repeated efforts and written communication to the airline, we got no response from the spokesperson of the national carrier.