With volcanic ash from Iceland continuing to cripple flights bound for European and North American cities for the fifth day, the Ministry of Civil Aviation on Monday said it has set up a control room to address problems like visa date expiry and other such hassles faced by passengers stranded in India.
The Ministry said the control room would coordinate with the Ministry of External Affairs, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the airlines flying out of India. (Control room number 24632950; extension 2333)
About 41,435 passengers supposed to fly from the Delhi and Mumbai airports have been stranded since air traffic to European and North American cities came to a complete halt due to the volcanic ash. According to travel firms in Punjab, an estimated 12,000 passengers are affected from that region alone.
"The Civil Aviation Ministry has set up a control room, headed by Joint Secretary Prashant Shukul, with officials from External Affairs Ministry and DGCA to clear the backlog," Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar said.
Though Air India and Jet Airways have started their services to the US through Athens and Egypt, the situation is still grim, he said. The Ministry asked the airlines to not to "take benefit of the situation" and charge higher fares for the tickets from the passengers or other airlines that transfer passengers to them. "This will be closely monitored," the Secretary said.
Nambiar said the government is also in talks with Greece to grant "third and fourth freedom" rights, which allow passengers from India to disembark and embark at Athens and take another flight or train to Europe. He also said that due to the closure of airports, five of Air India's aircraft are stuck at various stations. "Two are stuck at London, one each at Frankfurt, Chicago and New York," he said.
Travel firms in Punjab said they were flooded with queries about flights and refunds. Among those whose flights were cancelled was Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, whose flight to the US was cancelled on April 18. He was supposed to see his mother Surinder Kaur Badal, who is to be operated for cancer.
Rishab Gulati, who is doing Business Management in UK, said, "My second year final examinations are starting in first week of May and my presentation is in the last week of April. If I do not reach in time my whole year is gone."
Ram Ghai, the director of Ghai Travels, Jalandhar, said, "There was already 25 per cent more unexpected rush in the European circuit and the US this summer but now due to this volcanic ash trouble, we are overburdened with queries from the passengers."
Bharat Luthra of Travel Trendz said, "It is estimated that more then 12,000 passengers are affected from the region. We are calling the airlines offices to adjust them on further flights when they start."