As dense fog enveloped the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Tuesday night and visibility dropped to zero, it was the same story all over again. Flights got disrupted, and passengers were stranded for hours as airline operators failed to inform them on time about the delays and rescheduling.
This, when the Met department had, in the afternoon, forecast that dense fog would to set in over the airport by late evening. Any Delhiite who was out on the road after 8.30 pm on Tuesday could have predicted the chaos that was to come at the airport.
And chaos there was. After visibility at the airport dropped around 9.50 p.m., about 150 flights were delayed, 31 diverted to nearby airports and 20 cancelled. The backlog of flights meant many flights were delayed throughout Wednesday.
Most passengers complained that they got SMSes from the airlines only after reaching the airport. "Only after I reached the airport, at 5.30 am, did I get an SMS saying my flight had been rescheduled," said Bharat Saxena, a resident of Sarvpriya Vihar whose 7.40 am flight to Indore was rescheduled to 11.30 a.m.
Vikas Shinde from Pune, who was to take a flight back home on Wednesday noon, got an SMS at 11.15 am — when he was already at the airport. His flight was rescheduled for 3.20 pm Shinde had earlier in the day stopped at the Karol Bagh office of Air Deccan to check the flight schedule. “They told me it was on time,” he said.
Frequent travellers also complained that the measures suggested by the Civil Aviation Ministry to fight fog delays remained on paper alone. “They keep talking about relaxing take-off norms,” said Sandeep Sharma, a consultant with a multi-national corporation. “Are they going to implement them after the fog season is gone?”
Sources in the Air Traffic Control blamed the airlines for the chaos. "We give weather updates to the airlines every six hours," said a source. "At the airport, flights disruptions started at 9.50 pm on Tuesday and continued till 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday. The airlines had ample information that the situation was going to worsen."
But the airlines claimed they were quick to react to the situation. "We started informing passengers about rescheduling and delays through SMSes and phone calls as soon as we got the information," said a Jet Airways spokesman. Asked about the Met forecast, he said it was about fog and not "visibility". Spokespersons for Air Deccan, Air Sahara and SpiceJet also claimed they had informed their passengers well in time.
Meanwhile, the Met's airport office predicted tougher days ahead. "Thursday could be the worst fog-hit day in this season," said an official.