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Fuel leak panic delays AI flight by 19 hours

An Air India flight to New York via London was delayed by more than 19 hours following a string of misunderstandings and confusion, report Sidhartha Roy & Avishek Dastidar.
By Sidhartha Roy & Avishek Dastidar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2008 02:27 AM IST

An Air India flight to New York via London, scheduled to take off at 7.20 am on Wednesday with 298 passengers, was delayed by more than 19 hours following a string of misunderstandings and confusion.

Trouble started as the passengers were boarding the aircraft. Two passengers raised an alarm, claiming what they thought was a fuel leak in the aircraft. “The two thought the plane was leaking whereas it was just the routine drainage of excess fuel,” said an Air India spokesperson.

The passengers picked a row with the crew, who held that nothing was wrong with the aircraft. But the worried passengers would hear none of it and demanded that they be allowed to get off the plane.

A passenger, Rajiv Gupta, said that after the two raised the alarm, an aged lady joined them, claiming she needed immediate medical attention and wanted to get off the plane at once. The haggling went on for hours.

Well past noon, when it seemed that the flight might take off after all, there was more trouble. The crew declared that they could no more fly the plane as their flight hours were over. “The crew claimed that it was no fault of theirs and that they had exceeded their maximum flying time. So they got off the plane and subsequently the passengers, too, were made to de-board,” said an Air India official.

And then followed another nightmare for the passengers. Air India officials told them no hotel room was available and that they would have to make do with the airport’s transit lounge. Soon the transit lounge, with not too many seats, resembled a railway platform. Passengers complained that no senior official spoke to them despite repeated requests.

In the evening, some passengers were accommodated in other flights. The rest were told that their flight would take off at 2.30 am.

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