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Ordeal: A flight odyssey that took longer than a long-haul train journey

By EMN Updated: Dec 27, 2014 11:39 pm

This is a detailed account of the ordeal the passengers travelling from Delhi to Dimapur were subjected to from the 18th December to 20th December 2014. I attest all the following events are true.

My brother and I were all set to get into a cab when my phone beeped at 4:18 AM of 18th December 2014. It was a SMS from AIR INDIA notifying us that our flight AI401 from Delhi to Dimapur via Kolkata will be delayed by an hour and half. Take off time had been shifted from 7:00 AM to 8:30 AM which meant that all passengers headed to Dimapur from Delhi would miss their connecting flight AI705 in Kolkata.
Concerned, I called up a number 18001801407 provided by Air India in the SMS for further details on the delay. As expected, there was no reply on the other end. Due to the change in the flight timing we reached Terminal 3, Indra Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi at 6:00 AM. By then I got a call from a representative of AIR INDIA informing me that alternate arrangements will be made for the connecting flight in Kolkata, in case we missed the flight. He further instructed me to consult the service manager at the Air India desk during the check-in.
While checking in, as instructed, I inquired about the delay and the arrangements that have been made for the connecting flight to Dimapur. The man behind the desk politely informed us that our connecting flight AI705 from Kolkata to Dimapur via Dibrugarh too has been delayed and it’s take off time has been postponed to 11:40 AM. He even went to the extend of tagging our luggages up to Dimapur. Later on, it was found that, all the passengers to bound for Dimapur and Dibrugarh, were fed with the same lie.
While citing heavy fog for the reason in delaying the flight, we, myself and other passengers included, noticed that other airlines were taking off on time without any trouble. Nonetheless, feeling reassured from the information provided to us by the Airlines, we took off IGI Airport, New Delhi a little after 8:30 AM and touched down at Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata at 10:50 AM. After we got off the craft we headed straight to the domestic transfer area to catch our connecting flight to Dimapur.
On reaching the Air India check-in counter at section E, we were informed that the our Flight AI705 to Dimapur has taken off on time leaving us stranded in the airport. Fellow passengers of AI705 numbering up to 60, started to pour in and began to demand valid reasons and a solution. Incidentally none of the high ranking officials were present at the airport and we were stuck with the Air India check-in supervisor who had to make calls to give us any information. After a long argument filled with emotions, drama and a lot of phone calls, Air India came up with the following explanation and solution.
1) Flight no AI705 couldn’t be delayed beyond 11 AM because visibility to land in Dimapur becomes low and landing isn’t possible. (By then we had gotten information from friends and family that our seats were given to the passengers who were also stranded in Kolkata for a day).
2) A special Flight to Dimapur and Dibrugarh will be arranged the next day that is 19/12/2014, which happens to be a Friday, and in case you didn’t know there are no flights to Dimapur from Kolkata on Fridays.
3) Arrangements were being made for an over night stay in Hotels near the Airport, where all the expenditure ie., lodging, food and travel will be paid for by the Airlines.
Although unsatisfied and unconvinced, we agreed to stay over night in Kolkata because most of the passengers were exhausted, hungry and among us were 3 senior citizens and 7 children aged 15 and below and a 6 month old baby, including 2 pre-school children and a 13 year old boy who were all travelling to Nagaland from the United States. After receiving stamped guarantees from the officials, all the passengers promptly checked-in to the hotel by 1:00 PM, where 3 to 4 people were cramped up in small rooms.
The following morning 19/12/2014 all the passengers made it a point reached the airport by 8:30 AM. We had also learned from family and friends that the Airlines had issued a statement on Nagaland Post informing the general public about our flight cancellation and the scheduled time of our landing. We were later informed that our flight was tentatively scheduled to take off around 3:00PM contrary to the 2.35 PM landing printed on the newspaper.
When questioned about the low visibility issue beyond 11 AM take off and later scheduling us after 3:00 PM the next day, the Air India officials insisted that due to change in roster, they were not accountable for the false information provided to us by their colleagues the previous day.
While checking in, some of the of the clerks at the counters didn’t seemed to have the slightest clue on which flight they had to put us in, to make matters worst they began to charge audacious fees for excess luggages while the same the luggages had already been cleared by the Airlines in Delhi the previous day.
After arguing and explaining our situation which seemed to take forever, they cleared us for security. Flight no AI9701 was supposedly the special flight bound for Dimapur while the other other passengers to Dibrugarh we put on different airlines. After going through security, most of us were clueless about the actual boarding time and the gate number since it wasn’t printed on the boarding pass.
At around 11:30 AM the electronic screens started displaying that the flight AI9701 was cancelled. No announcement about the cancellation was made on the PA system. A group of us went over to one of the Air India boarding gates and demanded an explanation only to realize that they had very deviously announced the cancellation 3 hours prior the tentative take off, thereby disabling us to even take legal action. We were in a fix.
The information we wanted could only be retrieved from the officials before the security gate at the check-in counter. We had to risk the cancellation of our security clearance. We requested the Air India employees at the gate to make a PA announcement about the cancellation and to gather all the passengers of AI9701 at gate no 20. After cancelling our security check and returning the security tags from our hand baggages, we gathered in front of the check-in counter and demanded the person in charge of the Airport be brought forth but to no avail.
Luckily, travelling among us were many prominent Naga figures, through whom we could get in touch with the Minister’s office of Civil Aviation, New Delhi. After an hour’s wait and through the assistance and pressure put on by various influential individuals and offices, since the actual person in charge was conveniently missing, one Mr. Dasgupta appeared for about 10 minutes with the following statement and proposal,
1) Our flight was grounded in Lilabari Airport due to heavy fog. (which was later proved false).
2) Another over night stay in Kolkata.
3) Departure the next day on the first flight to Dimapur.
On hearing his statement the group unanimously disapproved his proposal. All of us wanted to get get home but none of the passengers were willing to take any seat which rightfully belonged to fellow brothers and sisters heading home. We wanted to put and end to this process of staggering of passengers from the previous day’s flight. For Air India the solution was simple, simply load us on the next flight home while the passengers for the next flight would be made to stay overnight in Kolkata, and thus the process would continue.
For them our time was disposable. By then the passengers had missed weddings, a funeral, wasted two days of unpaid leave, another passenger had just 3 days to stay home, while some students were on very short vacations, every minute spent was a precious moment lost. None of us wished the same fate upon other fellow passengers.
After much discussion and sharing of ideas we decided we would not spent another night in Kolkata and therefore demanded for a flight to Guwahati and bus service to Dimapur the same evening.
After another hour’s wait Mr.Dasgupta reappeared and informed us that another special flight to Guwahati has been arranged and that bus service to Dimapur from Guwahati is under negotiation. We were instructed to collect our boarding pass from the check-in counters after which we queued up to be padded down again.
Our flight AI9729 was scheduled to be boarded at 4:10 PM. By 4:00 PM the passengers were getting anxious because there were no further information, neither on the flight nor the bus.
Finally at 4:30 PM, Mr. Dasgupta appeared at our gate No.1 and informed us that our plane is ready to take off and that a Volvo bus awaits us at Guwahati. A total of 46 passengers boarded flight no AI9729 around 4:45 PM and took off shortly after.
We landed at Gopinath Bordiloi International Airport, Guwahati around 6:30 PM. While we waited for our luggages, one Mr.Arup Ratan Biswas, the second in command appeared, because the actual person was again conveniently missing, to inform us that the bus service was not arranged neither did he felt responsible to do so. I bear witness to Mr. Biswas asking us,
1) What has the central government done for the Dimapur airport in its 10 plus years of existence?
2) Why isn’t the Airport in Dimapur unable support landings at night?
3) Why do other private airlines not wish to operate in our region?
Those remarks were not at all relevant to the situation but he had a point. There are no definite answers to his questions but we Nagas should give some serious thought into it. We wouldn’t have undergone to such lengths if those facilities were available to us in Dimapur airport. To make matters worst, most of the passengers were missing their checked-in luggages.
Our fellow passengers demanded what had been promised to us. After some heated arguments and phone calls Mr. Biswas promised to make arrangements for the bus service and disappeared. Around 8:30 PM due to lack of information and update on the bus service, 7 passengers left the Airport to catch the Nagaland Express which was departing for Dimapur at 11:30 PM.
At 9:50 PM we were informed that 6 vehicles were ready to take us to Dimapur. We quickly divided ourselves into appropriate groups with one adult male in every vehicle and started our journey to Dimapur at around 10:15 PM. Around 6:30 AM on the 20th of December, exactly 46 hours after we left IGI Airport, Delhi, we crossed the Nagaland gate.
Our final stop was the City Tower in Dimapur, although exhausted all the passengers were in good spirits. During the ordeal we had forged new friendships, discovered new strengths, widened our views and most of all we had done something selfless by refusing to travel in seats already bought by other passengers travelling to Dimapur. Although, we took off from IGI Airport, New Delhi on the 18th December 2014 we had arrived later than the people taking off on the 20th December because our missing luggage could only be verified and claimed after the normal commuters had collected their luggages.
Later around 7:30 PM on the 20th December 2014, I learned that one among seven of the passengers who opted to travel on Nagaland Express was robbed of their personal effects including money and important documents.
I could only imagine how traumatizing it would have been and I’d like to extend our deepest regrets. Although words aren’t enough, on behalf of all the passengers I’d like to extend our heart felt gratitude to some of our fellow passengers namely, Mr.Lanu Yaden and his wife Mrs.Limatula Yaden, Director of National Health Mission, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi, Dr.Kheza, Owner and proprietor of Bethel Hospital Kohima, Ms. Mercy Epao, Director of DONER. Without them we would have been voiceless and lost. We thank you for your courage, initiative, leadership, guidance, sacrifices and contributions.
Dimapur being the only Airport in Nagaland, for many it is just a pit stop on their journey home, whose families spend time and money to travel to Dimapur to receive and escort them to their respective home towns.
What about the inconvenience faced by the awaiting families during such situations? This ordeal that we were subjected to is one among the many that we face regularly. Some of us blame the system and some of us blame our leaders for not representing us on proper platforms.
But most of us have let slide such incidences without as much as a simple protest. Why are we so meek and tolerant towards such complacent attitude? I am tired of this corrupt system. I am tired of hearing,” well it’s just the way it is.” I will not confirm and I can only ask passionately and politely.

Dr. Sungtimen Jamir
Merhulietsa Paramedical Colony,
Kohima, Nagaland.

By EMN Updated: Dec 27, 2014 11:39:09 pm