Winter Flight Woes
Chaos at airports has become a routine affair in Indian airports during the winter season as flights often get delayed by several hours due to dense fog or low visibility. The problem may be more acute in northern India than other parts of the country, but it affects flight movements throughout the country as such delays disrupt many schedules. For instance, if the Delhi-Kolkata-Dimapur flight could not take off from the originating point, it will keep passengers waiting for hours in two other airports, which in turn will cause enormous hardships for fliers. Recently, on getting irritated over a delay, a flyer assaulted a pilot while he was making an announcement from inside the passenger cabin. In Mumbai, a group of passengers organised a picnic on the airport tarmac after their flight was diverted and they were being shifted to and fro the adjacent control building. Indian airports have witnessed several other ugly scenes this winter which highlights the fact that fliers are in no mood to tolerate such delays anymore and are getting unruly, a trend that should be stopped at once.
The authorities should urgently address the various issues that occur due to dense fog and low visibility menace in winter. Flight scheduling should take the high probability of dense fog during winter into account and book fewer morning flights. As various channels are involved in flight booking, including travel sites and agents, passenger information must be systematically shared between concerned parties to update passengers about rescheduling of flights. Infrastructure problems such as single operational runway during winter should be prioritised and addressed by port authority. Laws that protect passengers must be enacted to ensure adequate rights and compensation. As such steps and many more remedial measures are long overdue, protests against flight delays have become louder this year. Interestingly, the Northern Railways has started taking necessary steps with the onset of winter to avoid extraordinary delay in train running schedules for the last few years by cancelling non-important trains well in advance, rescheduling train timings, etc. However, no airlines operating in India have followed such practices so far. Due to reluctance in rescheduling of flights, passengers are forced to wait for hours at airports. Once or twice a year, fliers may tolerate such delays, but it is wrong to expect that they will remain silent if such delays occur every winter.
Passengers prefer to fly for various reasons, from saving precious time to avoiding hindrances of car or train journeys. They pay much more to aviation operators as compared to rail or road transport providers. Airfare is clearly still much higher than other modes of transport notwithstanding the introduction of budget airlines. Thus, every airline and airport is duty bound to ensure passengers’ comfort and cannot escape their responsibilities on any pretexts. Moreover, airlines should ensure that plane safety tests are conducted regularly and that they pick pilots adequately trained to handle low-visibility situations. Otherwise, air travel during winter will continue to be a nightmarish experience for fliers.