The thick volcanic smoke and flying ash choking European airspace continued to disrupt flights leaving passengers stranded for the third consecutive day on Sunday.
With little chance of the ash receding, Air India cancelled all its flights to Europe, the US and Canada till Monday. In all, the national carrier cancelled 16 westbound flights for Monday. Apart from this, it cancelled 18 flights scheduled for Sunday.
Jet Airways also cancelled all flights operating to London and the United States via its Brussels hub. So did King-fisher, which operates four in and outbound flights from Mumbai and Delhi to London.
Europe is a major transit hub and 30 per cent of international traffic from India goes to and via the continent. Officials of a large Indian conglomerate, who had gone to London for fundraising work, are among the several thousand fliers stranded.
“I just came back from Europe. The situation there is the worst since World War II when European airspace was closed.” said travel entrepreneur Ankur Bhatia, MD, Amadeus India, who managed to catch the last Lufthansa flight from Munich to Delhi before the airport closed.
“It would take several weeks to clear the backlog after flights begin to operate,” Bhatia said.
Foreign airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic have grounded their planes. Airport officials said the aircraft are parked at distant bays at the Delhi and Mumbai airports, indicating that they may remain grounded for a few days at least.
With most of Europe out of bounds for flights, airlines have begun looking for alternate routes to resume flights to North America. Jet Airways will use Athens as a transit point to operate flights onwards to the US (Newark) and Canada (Toronto).
The airline has got permissions from European aviation authorities to use Athens as its technical and maintenance hub till London and Brussels re-open. The airlines are offering full refunds to passengers on tickets or waiving off all penalties on cancellations and re-booking if passengers wish to reschedule travel plans.
“The volcanic ash cloud from Iceland is moving around and changing shape. Based on the latest information from the Met office, restrictions currently in place across UK controlled airspace will remain in place until Sunday,” said the latest update from NATS, UK’s leading Air Navigation Services Provider.
(Inputs from Tushar Srivastava and Neelam Pandey in New Delhi)