Law enforcement officials were engaged to check unruly passengers on a Bhopal-bound Jet Airways flight that was stuck at the Mumbai airport for nearly two hours.
Passengers, some of whom filmed videos of the chaos inside the aircraft and tweeted about the incident, said the flight was delayed because the airline allegedly wanted to accommodate fliers who had failed to reach the airport on time.
The latecomers, according to stranded passengers, were part of a larger wedding group that threatened to abandon the flight if their unpunctual companions were not accommodated.
The incident took place on board flight 9W 7083 that was scheduled to leave the city at 5:55 am on Friday. Minutes before the take-off, passengers learnt that the aircraft was waiting because some passengers were running late.
A Jet Airways spokesperson, however, blamed a technical glitch that led to overbooking beyond the norm.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules for scheduled flights in India state that check-in counters should shut down 45 minutes before take-off.
Often, fliers who reach the airport well in advance but fail to make it to the check-in counter within that deadline are denied boarding. But in this case the airline made an exception, alleged passengers.
“Initially, the airline crew denied boarding to the 17 travellers who came in late. But then, the rest of the group on board refused to fly without them,” Aditi Shrivastava, a passenger who works with an entertainment company in Mumbai, alleged.
As the flight was overbooked, the airline made an announcement requesting other travellers to give up their seats to accommodate the leftover guests from the group. “I have been on overbooked flights in the US but never have I seen an airline hold up a flight to assist travellers who turn up late,” added Shrivastava.
Parikshit Reddy, another passenger on board, tweeted about a fellow-passenger who was travelling to attend his father’s funeral rites. “Stranded, helpless gentlemen waiting to see his dad’s dead body,” he tweeted.
The scene turned ugly when the members of wedding group blocked the aircraft doors to prevent it from shutting down. The scene was captured in a video shot by Shrivastava which went viral.
It also showed that despite the passengers’ demand to call in security, the airline staff refused. As the standoff continued, passengers said the airline offered a cash reward of Rs 10,000 to volunteers willing to give up their seats and switch to another Bhopal-bound flight in the evening.
Five passengers took the offer but the flight was still stuck as 12 more from the wedding group had to be accommodated, added fliers.
Around 7:45 am the pilot announced that the Bhopal airstrip was scheduled to close down for routine repairs at 9:30 am. By this time, fliers had lost their cool. The flight finally took off at 8:05 am.
The Jet Airways statement said: “A technical glitch resulted in Jet Airways flight 9W 7083 (S2 4621) BOM-BHO of December 02, 2016, being overbooked above the norm. This resulted in certain confirmed guests on the flight being denied boarding.”
The airline added that the offloaded guests — part of a larger group — refused to accept the airline’s offer of compensation or accommodation on alternative flights, and together with other members of the group, delayed the flight.
“This led to an unruly situation, necessitating the intervention of law enforcement officials, causing the flight to be delayed by 90 minutes and inconveniencing other guests who were already on board,” said a spokesperson. Subsequently, all the offloaded guests were duly compensated as per DGCA guidelines and the technical glitch identified and corrected for subsequent bookings, added the spokesperson.