hi INDiA
South Asian Views On Global News - Update 24X7

Air India Express faces Malayali wrath

Air India20121021183243_l

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 21 (IANS) Kerala Police, the airline and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation are all inquiring into the comedy of errors that dogged the Air India Express flight Friday from Abu Dhabi to Kochi, resulting in a fracas between passengers and security personnel and a ‘hijack’ alert.

When the flight to Kochi was diverted to Thiruvananthapuram because of bad weather and the crew refused to fly it back to Kochi on the ground that their duty hours were over, it touched a raw nerve among the passengers, who were already delayed by over seven hours at Abu Dhabi.

The announcement that they would be taken to Kochi, 220 km away from Thiruvananthapuram, by road only caused frayed tempers among passengers to boil over. They sought to prevent the pilot from deboarding, and she sounded a hijack alert, putting air traffic control authorities across the country in a tizzy.

There have been complaints from hapless travellers ever since Malayalis started making a beeline to the oil-rich Middle-East countries since mid-1970s.

When it came to air fares and services on board, many low-budget travellers have complained that they were treated shoddily, and often fleeced, by international airlines as well as by India’s national carrier.

Air India Express, the budget airline of the national carrier, operates with 21 aircraft. Nearly 70 percent of its flights operate from the three Kerala airports, and 80 percent of its cabin crew is from Kerala when flights operate to the state or to the Mangalore airport in adjacent Karnataka.

Change can be effected in the situation, says a leading economist at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) here. "These non-resident Keralites (NRKs) should use their combined might and totally ignore Air India. It’s not proper for passengers to act in such an unbecoming manner, whatever the compulsions," he said commenting on Friday’s ‘hijack’ alert incident.

"No one forced the NRKs to travel Air India. There are so many airlines operating. If the NRKs can use their combined might, they will have Air India begging for custom," said S. Irudayarajan of CDS, who has been studying the diaspora.

A recent study by the CDS here showed that there are currently more than 2.2 million Keralites in the Middle East countries. And the foreign currency that flows into the state from this region is estimated at Rs.60,000 crore annually.

There are now 11 international airlines operating flights between Kerala and the Middle East, and Jet Airways too flies to many Middle East destinations from the three Kerala airports.

An aviation expert, on condition of anonymity, told IANS that if things must change, Air India officials must introspect on the nature of services they offer.

"The biggest advantage that Air India has is that when it comes to air fares, it beats other airlines. It is always priced lowest, even at peak season. Moreover, Air India Express flights offer free meals," the aviation expert said.

"Air India should have additional operating crew (pilots and co-pilots) in the state, at least from October to December, when bad weather is more likely to occur unexpectedly, as happened Friday," the aviation expert said.

Meanwhile, State Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said the six passengers who have been asked to report to police officials investigating into Friday’s ‘hijack’ episode would not be harassed in any way.

"When we get a complaint, we need to look into it; we can hardly tear and throw a complaint away. Let the probe go on, we offer assurances that the passengers will not be harassed. Once the investigation is over, the government will take a decision on what needs to be done. There is no reason for the passengers to fear harassment," Radhakrishnan told reporters Sunday.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy recently announced that the state government would launch its own airline, Air Kerala, by April next year. It remains to be seen whether that airline will operate that much more efficiently, drawing lessons from the experiences of the national carrier.

–Indo-Asian News Service