Around 150 passengers were stuck inside a Jeddah-bound Air India aircraft for at least two hours on Tuesday evening. The problem began with malfunctioning of the cockpit door, and when passengers complained of suffocation while it was being fixed, a crew member manually opened the auto-locked door and the emergency chutes rolled out, delaying the flight further.
The cabin crew union said the attendant was overworked and had refused to operate the flight citing work fatigue, but reported to duty after the management threatened to bench her.
The flight was scheduled to depart from Mumbai airport at 5.30pm. According to airline sources, the snag was noticed soon after boarding was completed. “Since the passengers complained of heat as there was no air conditioning, the attendant opened the door without realising it was auto-locked,” said an airline staffer requesting anonymity.
Passengers said they were not informed about the incident, and had to forcibly step out of the aircraft after two hours as the suffocation became unbearable. “They kept giving us false updates. Despite being aware of the problem, they said the flight would take off in 15 minutes,” said Vikram Dayal, a passenger.
Another passenger Babu Lal said since there was no ground power unit attached to the aircraft, the cabin became like a furnace. “With no air-conditioning, passengers started feeling sick. We had no option but to get off the plane,” said Lal. Some passengers even cancelled the trip.
Sources in the AI cabin crew union said they had warned against such incidents as the crew member was overworked. “She had operated back-to-back flights across 20 time zones over the past six days. It is natural that she could be disoriented,” said a member of the All India Cabin Crew Association, one of the two AI cabin crew unions. The flight was yet to take off at the time of going to press. An AI spokesperson said an alternative aircraft was being arranged for the passengers.