Anant Nautiyal spent four hours on the phone trying to get an update on his flight status to Delhi from London. The patience paid off for the executive with a UK-based development consulting firm.
He learnt about mass flight cancellations — because of a volcanic eruption in Iceland that has strewn ash across European skies — before setting off for Heathrow airport.
“I was lucky. I simply changed the dates of my flights to next week,” said the 31-year-old. “It could have been worse. I might have found out only at Heathrow. Or worse still, got stuck somewhere else, unable to fly back to London. That would have been very expensive indeed.”
Lakhs of travellers such as Nautiyal were stranded at airports across the world as most airlines plying on the busy
route cancelled flights until April 17.
Kemp’s Corner resident Meenal Zatakia, who went to New York for her niece’s wedding, is also stuck. “It appears quite uncertain. We are hoping the problem will end soon,” said Milan Zatakia.
Executives on business trips were badly hit. Kenneth Chang, for instance, moved into a cheaper Mumbai hotel because his moderate travel budget could not sustain his current five-star stay.
Panicky travellers called travel agents to check about their visas expiring, stay and bookings to local destinations. “A person booked into a hotel from [Friday] will lose $100 (Rs 4,227) per night because they would not be refunded,” said Rajesh Rateria, chairman (western region), Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI).
Families scheduled to leave for package tours will have to shorten their trips because there is no scope to extend the tourist visas, especially Schengen visas that are valid for 28 European countries. “If the original itinerary had a three-day London stay, a traveller leaving two days behind schedule will get only a day in the city,” said Rateria.
The uncertainty amongst airlines about resuming operations is adding to passenger worries. While Air India has cancelled all its 11 flights to the UK, Europe and North America for the next 48 hours, all flights of Jet Airways to the UK and North America via Brussels, earlier rescheduled, have been cancelled.
Kingfisher Airlines also cancelled all flights to London.
“We are getting panic calls from passengers. But there’s little we can do until the airspace reopens,” said a senior customer care official with a private airline on condition of anonymity.