Picture this: You are sitting in a chair inside a confined, claustrophobic space for seven hours without food, fresh air and no information on when you would be let out.
This is not a hostage situation but the actual plight of nearly 200 passengers who had boarded a British Airways flight to London on Wednesday. The flight was delayed due to fog.
The flight, BA 142, was scheduled to depart from the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 3.30am for London's Heathrow airport. But at that time, the Delhi airport was witnessing zero visibility conditions because of the dense fog that had set in around 1.30 am.
Contrary to Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) guidelines, the passengers were asked to board the aircraft around an hour before departure time. The flight took off at 9.30am after general visibility improved to 50 metres.
"We were made to sit inside the aircraft for seven agonising hours without any information on when the plane would actually take off," said a passenger who didn't wish to be named.
The incident happened in spite of repeated orders from the DGCA that passengers cannot be made to board an aircraft if visibility is too poor for the flight to operate. DGCA chief EK Bharat Bhushan said that he would 'look into the matter'.
"There is a compensation structure for tarmac delays beyond a point but the policies are not enforced," said Kapil Kaul of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. "If the airline knows that the weather would not clear up, passengers should be kept in the terminal."
An airline spokesperson said the "British Airways flight BA 142 from Delhi to London was delayed due to weather conditions in Delhi".
"The captain decided to wait at the take-off point on the runway after getting clearance from ATC as the Met department and the forecast suggested that the weather would improve in short time. He waited to avoid further delay that would have been caused had he returned to the stand," the spokesperson said.
"British Airways apologises to all its customers for the inconvenience caused as a result of this delay," the spokesperson said. The airline, however, claimed passengers were made to sit for only five hours.
Repeated guidelines and threats from the DGCA have failed to make any impact on the way domestic and international airlines operate.
While British Airways will most likely go scot-free, a similar misdemeanor at an US airport would have meant a steep penalty for the airline.
In UK, airlines are not allowed to board passengers during bad weather.