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Air India cancels 37 Gulf flights, turns
to retired pilots to tide over crisis

K S R Menon in Dubai | April 27, 2003 17:17 IST

Indian Airlines has stepped in to lift stranded passengers from the Gulf after Air-India cancelled 37 flights from the region from Sunday till the end of the month due to strike by pilots over the SARS epidemic.

"Nearly 45 per cent of the flights from the Gulf to India have been cancelled due to the strike and the destinations most affected are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat," A-I Regional Director P P Singh told PTI in Dubai.

"Flights from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar are largely unaffected," he said adding 37 of 75 flights have been cancelled.

"The passengers who have booked on the cancelled flights will be carried on other A-I flights or will be endorsed on IA or if need be on other airlines," Singh said.

Indian Airlines will operate additional flights and accommodate A-I ticket holders on regular flights.

Singh said since it was a lean season, some of the other A-I flights, which were not full could accommodate passengers booked on the affected schedules.

"We have operated an additional IA flight on Saturday in the Delhi-Dubai sector and are ready to introduce more such flights if there are enough passengers" IA Regional Director R C Kathuria said.

"For the last three days we have been accommodating A-I passengers affected by the strike and we will continue to do so. We are in constant touch with the A-I management and are fully geared to meet the situation," Kathuria said.

On Sunday, A-I operated two special Boeing 747 flights out of Delhi as part of a contingency plan.

"Under the plan, special Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai flights would be operated to help passengers catch flights to their onward destinations in Europe and US," an airlines spokesman said in Mumbai on Sunday.

Services to six prime destinations -- New York, New Jersey, Chicago, London, Frankfurt and Paris -- would be maintained by Boeing 747 aircraft while 50 per cent of the Airbus flights would be operated, AI spokesperson Jitendra Bhargava said in Mumbai.

"We expect our revised schedules to stabilise over the next 12 hours and we have also deputed general managers and deputy general managers to be present at the airport to help passengers. We are also working out an arrangement with Air Tel wherein passengers can dial 9892230010 to have flight schedules," he added.

Meanwhile, a member of Rajasthan State Commission for Minorities Jasbir Singh on Sunday accused the central government of not making proper arrangements for screening passengers arriving in India from SARS-affected countries.

Recalling his own experience at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on his arrival from Beijing last week, Singh alleged the government was doing nothing concrete for detecting SARS cases at international terminals.

Singh, who returned on April 21 after a 12-day visit to China as part of an official delegation, claimed that neither the health nor civil aviation ministry gave any tips to them and other China-bound passengers when they were leaving on April 9 on how to protect themselves from the dreaded disease.

Even on their return, the team members were not subjected to any diagnostic tests, he alleged adding the passengers were only given forms on a Delhi-bound flight to specify if they were returning from a SARS-affected country.

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