170 Air India passengers face a 12-hour flight delay

A staffing error left almost 170 Air India Express passengers stranded at Dubai International Airport for more than 12 hours.

DUBAI // A staffing error left almost 170 Air India Express passengers stranded at Dubai International Airport for more than 12 hours yesterday. The blunder was the latest in a string of flight delays by India's national airline. Air India Express IX 344 was scheduled to take off at 1am yesterday from Dubai to Calicut. The flight finally departed at 2.30pm with around 130 passengers on board after some made other arrangements. Passengers complained that they were unaware of the hold-up until they arrived at the airport.

"We were told there would be a two-hour delay," said Saidalavi Vadakkethela, an Indian advertising officer based in Dubai, who was travelling with his wife and daughter. "We kept waiting at the airport but there was no information." The delay followed assurances from the Air India chairman, Arvind Jadhav, last month that the carrier would strengthen its engineering support base in the Gulf region, add flights and set up an area call centre to address complaints. Hundreds of Air India Express passengers have been stranded over recent months because of technical malfunctions including a lack of maintenance personnel.

The airline blamed poor weather in India and insufficient staff numbers for the delay. The flight meant to pick up the Dubai passengers could not leave India, said Abhay Pathak, the regional manager for Air India in the UAE. "We are having a problem with a shortage of crew members, which is why the flight could not leave on time from India," he said. "As soon as the flight arrived in Dubai, we loaded the passengers and they were on their way."

Mr Pathak blamed the inability to inform some passengers of the delay on a late notification of the hold-up from the company. The flight was packed with families, including children on their way home for the holidays. "There were many people who had come from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah to take the flight. They were forced to camp at the airport," said Mr Vadakkethela. Passengers also complained that they were not given any accommodation despite the delay.

"They refused to house us as they kept saying that the flight would be ready to board at any time," said an Indian passenger, who did not want to be named. He was stuck at the airport with his family for more than seven hours. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae