Overbooking leaves passengers stranded

Kathmandu, October 19:

The festival season was marred for over two dozen air passengers who found themselves the victims of overbooking by India’s national carrier Indian and stranded in Kathmandu.

Even travellers holding confirmed business class tickets for flying to Kolkata from Kathmandu on Wednesday were victims of the decision by the airline authorities to issue tickets to more people than there were seats at a time there is a rush on the sector with flights going full for several weeks. Passengers with connecting flights to catch, ill passengers and a passenger whose wife is in hospital, were left in the lurch despite holding confirmed tickets and having arrived at the Kathmandu airport well in time.

Angry ticket holders sho-uted and threatened the Indian officials, creating cha-os and watched in consternation by other airlines as well as foreign tourists. The incident occurred on the day India’s ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shankar Mukh-erjee returned to Kathmandu from New Delhi. Despite the turmoil at the airport, Indian’s chief in Kathmandu, Gautam Shaha, was not present to pacify the passengers or offer them options since he was away attending on Mukherjee.

“This is ridiculous,” said a businessman, who frequently flies between Kathmandu and Kolkata. “A few weeks ago, the Kolkata flight was deferred to the next day because of technical problems. Indian’s attitude is that by putting us up in five-star hotels they are doing us a favour for grounding us. Someone needs to explain to them that our schedules are important to us.” Overbooking has been a frequent problem with Indian.

An Indian staffer, who did not want to be named, said since about 10 per cent people cancelled their trips at the last moment, the airline issued excess tickets. “It is a normal practice with all international airlines,” he claimed.

However, aggrieved passengers say it only shows up the ‘penny wise pound foolish mentality’ of the airline that has been causing it a loss of millions yearly.

Since the Kathmandu-Kolkata flights are scheduled only thrice a week, a stranded passenger cannot reach his destination even the next day. For two days, therefore, he is put up at a five-star hotel at Indian’s expense.

Those who need to fly out urgently have to be re-routed through New Delhi, which costs almost twice as much and even more if the journey involves overnight stay in New Delhi. Finally, there is the tarnishing of the image of the airline.

“The only reason Indian gets away with this on the Kathmandu-Kolkata sector is that there are no other airlines conducting direct flights,” a passenger frantically exploring other option to reach Kolkata said. “They wouldn’t do this with Delhi-Kathmandu flights. They would then lose all customers to private carriers Jet Airways and Air Sahara and other airlines.”

Earlier, a private Nepali airline, Cosmic Air, was running budget trips between Kolkata and Kathmandu but it had to suspend all flights due to lack of aircraft. That has left Indian with a monopoly in this sector.

What angered some passengers was that while re-routing 10 of the 25 passengers on Wednesday, nine via an Indian flight to Delhi and one by the Nepal Airlines, the Indian authorities paid no heed to emergencies.

“Instead of allowing people with immediate reasons to travel, they took those who could shout the loudest,” a passenger said. “It was obvious there was no thinking put into the re-routing.” To underscore the lack of vision, Indian is introducing an extra flight to Kolkata from October 28.

“It’s like closing the stable gate after the horse has bolted,” a passenger travelling to Kathmandu to attend a seminar said. “By that time the festival season would be over. The extra flight should have been introduced when there was a crying need for it.”