India: foreign airlines to operate additional flights until month's end : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

MUMBAI: The Centre on Friday opened up Indian skies to foreign operators and gave them the green signal to operate additional flights until March 31 to clear the heavy backlog of passengers, especially to westbound destinations.

The decision was taken at a meeting convened by the directorate-general of civil aviation in New Delhi on Friday evening, which was attended by 32 airline representatives. If there is no improvement in the situation, foreign carriers will be allowed to operate extra flights even after March 31.

The government's approval comes in the wake of the confusion which has prevailed at various Indian airports, especially in Mumbai and Delhi, as a result of the unprecedented rush of passengers to various cities in the West.

Aviation sources say that because of the Y2K problem which had loomed large last year, many travellers had decided to postpone their holiday plans from December to February. In fact, towards the end of December, a number of carriers had reported low demand for seats, which had led to the cancellation of some flights.

But scarcely any airline official expected that at a time when passenger traffic is traditionally lean, the demand for air tickets would suddenly pick up. ``Whoever thought that when schools and colleges are still open and the examination season is just around the corner, people will decide to go on holiday?'' said an airline official.

The mad rush has caught most airlines unawares and there is virtual bedlam at airport check-in counters. Heated exchanges between passengers who are off- loaded and helpess airline traffic staff have become a familiar sight. At Delhi a fortnight ago, nearly 100 London-bound Air-India (AI) passengers were off-loaded and similar instances were recorded at Mumbai as well. British Airways has off-loaded 150 passengers at the Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai airports since February 25. Said BA spokesperson Rayana Sequiera, ``In the last four days, the situation has improved. We are examining the possibility of operating extra flights to clear the rush.''

An Air France official in Mumbai said that during the last few weeks, a number of passengers had been off-loaded. "The airline has paid a hefty compensation to passengers who were off-loaded,'' he said. According to him, in the long run this could affect the yields of airlines. He said many of the off-loaded passengers had to be put up in nearby hotels and getting accommodation was not easy.

AI operated an additional flight from Mumbai to London last week to clear the backlog of passengers. The situation was no better on Saturday when 40 to 50 AI passengers at Mumbai airport bound for London could not be accommodated on the flight as there was overbooking. Said an airline spokeswoman, ``The off- loaded London passengers will be taken onto the New York and Chicago flights on Sunday.''

Airline officials who spoke to this newspaper on Saturday said that operators traditionally overbook by five to 10 per cent. The idea of overbooking is that seats should not go waste in case passengers with confirmed bookings do not turn up for the flight. This year, despite the overbookings, airlines have had to off-load large numbers of passengers.

-- viewer (, March 13, 2000

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