The Prabhakarans, a 12-member family including senior citizens and toddlers from Bangalore, spent Saturday afternoon in the sweltering heat outside the Mumbai airport because they did not know that the airport was not functioning.
They were supposed to take a Jet Airways flight home at 3.30pm. They said that the airline was late to inform them about the revision in flight schedules. The airport was not operational for five hours because the runway was closed for repairs from 11.30am to 4.30pm. Next Saturday, too, the airport will not operate for five hours.
“It was unbearably hot and frustrating to wait outside the airport for three hours,” said VK Prabhakaran, a family member. Having headed to the airport straight from Shirdi, the family had few options other than endlessly staring at the flight display screens.
There were at least 20 to 30 such families, mostly non-Mumbaiites, who were stranded at the city airport because their respective airlines did not inform them about the change in the flight schedule.
Suraj and Dipti Mulani, a couple from Dubai, lost money on hotel stay and transport because Spicejet Airlines, allegedly did not inform them about change in the timing of their flight to Delhi. “We had already paid for a bus ride from Delhi to Kulu and the stay there which went waste,” said Suraj.
The worst hit were people booked on morning flights, as their wait was the longest. Surendra Gupta, 50, a tourist from Gujarat, had a Jetlite flight at 11.30am to Delhi. Clueless about the runway closure, he was shocked to see the deserted airport. “I thought the cabbie had dropped us at the wrong terminal,” said Gupta. He said that Jetlite did not update him about his flight’s status.
Airlines, however, maintained that all passengers were informed about changes in flight schedules. “All passengers registered with our call centre received SMS alerts and website updates. We also kept travel agents informed about it,” said a Jet Airways spokesperson.
Spicejet spokesperson, too, said that all passengers were messaged and called in advance about the rescheduling. Unlike the massive congestion expected by the air traffic managers the flow of traffic was smooth when flights resumed at 4.22 pm.
A Jet Airways flight from Dubai was the first to land after the airport operator opened both the runways. Relocation of runway lights was one of the main purposes of this maintenance shut down. Runway edge lights were relocated because the runway has now become wide by 15m.