Watching the events at the Trivandrum Airport yesterday on TV, I was reminded of an old story. Just after a flight took off from Mexico City a man rushed into the cockpit brandishing a pistol. He told the pilot ‘I’m highjacking the plane. Take it to Miami, Florida’. The surprised pilot said, ‘But this flight is to Miami.’ The passenger shook his head and responded, ‘Twice before they said that, but it was highjacked to Havana.’
What happened at Trivandrum was something like this. Air India’s flight from Abu Dhabi to Cochin could not land at its destination because of poor visibility on the runway. After hovering for some time it was rerouted to Trivandrum. Three other flights were also diverted from Cochin around that time.
On landing at Trivandrum around 6.30 a.m., the passengers revealed the true Mallu character. They refused to disembark and wanted the flight to be taken to Cochin. The Captain, a lady with 22 years experience, four of it as Commander on international flights, explained that the plane had to be refueled and a new crew had to takeover.
Somebody said that Air India was planning to send them to Cochin by buses. That spread among the passengers. The take off from Abu Dhabi had been delayed by two and a half hours. Then there was the diversion. The prospect of four hours bus ride made them furious.
Reportedly, four people rushed into the cockpit and insisted that the flight be taken to Cochin. The Captain said that her time was over and she could not continue the flight. The men threatened her and even killing her was mentioned. They refused to let her disembark until another pilot came to replace her.
The situation was apparently bad and the Captain sent a highjack alarm. Whether that was necessary is being questioned. Within minutes the security personnel surrounded the aircraft and boarded. Finally the crisis was resolved and the flight took off to Cochin at 2 p.m. with a new crew. Even a bus ride would have reached the passengers to Cochin before that.
We cannot expect the air travelers to read the small print on their tickets. But there is something called commonsense. Let us look at a few relevant points here:
1. A pilot starts working much before operating a flight. There are several formalities that have to be taken care of. A delay is as much irritating to the crew as it is to the passengers.
2. The plane was taken to Trivandrum not because the Captain wanted to go there. The flight had to be diverted due to bad weather at its destination.
3. Before the plane can be airborne again several checks have to be made and fuel filled. These take time.
4. There is a limit to the time a pilot can continuously operate a flight. This is a safety precaution. An exhausted pilot is a risk to the passengers. Apparently, the Captain of this flight had completed her time and had to hand over to a new Commander.
5. The rule is that no one can enter the cockpit without permission.
6. Threatening the pilot was again breaking the law.
7. The Commander has total responsibility and authority in the plane.
8. Passengers complained that food and beverages were not supplied on time and air-conditioning was off during their ‘siege’ of the aircraft. Provisions are carried aboard on a flight to flight basis. The stock had to be replenished. That takes time. The prevailing confusion could have delayed the process. Finally this was taken care of.
What the passengers should have done was to alight at Trivandrum, have their breakfast and wait while another crew took over and readied the plane for take off. If any official talked about bus ride, they could have taken up the matter with Air India and Airport authorities.
Some passengers reportedly announced after landing at Cochin, ‘Never fly this airline.’ Earlier this month there was a serious complaint that Air India was not operating enough flights to the Gulf from Kerala. The Aviation Minister interfered and diverted more aircraft to this sector.
I believe that cases have been registered against six passengers.