Tempers fray in Indian airports as thousands are stranded by fog

Northern India is in a grip of a cold snap and visibility is poor

Aircraft at the taxiways on a winter morning at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. AFP
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Thousands of passengers were stranded and tempers frayed at airports across India on Monday after more than 400 flights were delayed or cancelled because of fog.

More than 110 flights were delayed and nearly 80 were cancelled on a third day of disruptions. Most of these were scheduled to arrive at or leave Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, according to flight tracker website Flightradar24.

The average delay stretched to more than an hour in Delhi, while hundreds of flights were held back or cancelled in other cities.

One flight from Mumbai to Guwahati in Assam state arrived in Dhaka in Bangladesh after it was diverted from its scheduled destination on Sunday because of fog.

It completed its journey to Guwahati after six hours in Dhaka.

As many as 50 domestic flights were delayed from Kempegowda International Airport in Bangalore city, known as India's Silicon Valley, on Sunday.

A passenger aboard an IndiGo flight from Delhi to Goa assaulted the pilot who was explaining delays. The flight was reported to have taken off 10 hours late.

“Due to dense fog and poor visibility in Delhi, arrivals and departures may be impacted from Delhi. Customers are requested to check their flight status before commencing their journey to the airport,” said Vistara, part of Air India.

Fog and cold have gripped northern India, with Delhi recording 3ºC on Monday and zero visibility in the morning, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

In the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, temperatures sat at between 3ºC and 7ºC.

Several passengers claimed that the delays were caused by a shortage of runways that can operate in poor visibility.

While Indira Gandhi International Airport has four near-parallel runways, only two are equipped with anti-fog landing systems called the CAT IIIB Instrument Landing System. One is being refurbished and the other is not operational.

The other runways two were also closed.

When operational, CAT IIIB helps planes land in dense fog and at minimum visibility of 50 metres.

Indian Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Monday said that he has asked the airport authorities to immediately expedite the operation of the other runway enabled with CAT III at Indira Gandhi International.

On social media, many passengers said airlines failed to share information they required and blamed all-out privatisation of India's airlines for poor treatment of customers.

“If you are one minute late they don’t open the gate to us, but [when] flights are delayed by 10 to 12 hours and there is no compensation for that,” Dave Augustus wrote on X.

“I have already said that airports are the new railway stations. IndiGo crew misbehaves all the time. People lose patience; we can't expect everyone to be OK with a flight delay. Let's not show sympathy towards such careless IndiGo employees.”

Others claimed a monopoly was behind the poor attitude of operators towards customer service.

IndiGo, India's low-cost airline, is the biggest player in the country's aviation industry. Out of every 100 passengers, 63 fly IndiGo.

It has about 300 aircraft and is three times larger than Air India, the former state carrier that was acquired by the billionaire Tata sons in 2022, solidifying its position as the largest fleet owner in India.

IndiGo's market share compares with Air India's 9.4 per cent share. Vistara and AirAsia India, also owned by Tata Group, hold market shares of 9 per cent and 7.9 per cent respectively.

SpiceJet, Akasa and Air Asia have 4.4 per cent, 4.1 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Updated: January 15, 2024, 5:06 PM