Airline Makes Stranded Passengers Pay for Fuel

Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

The Austrian airline that passengers say grounded their flight and forced them to pay for fuel in order to continue their trip from India to England says it will investigate the claims and repay the money.

“I have heard what happened. It shouldn’t have happened, and I will investigate why it happened,” Bhunpinder Kandra, director of passenger services for Comtel Air, told the Press Association. “The people who had to pay the money will receive a refund.”

The 16-year-old airline has also cancelled all of this weekend’s flights in and out of Britain.

The airline is in damage control mode following an incident last weekend in which 180 passengers aboard a Comtel flight from Amritsar, India to Birmingham, England were “held to ransom” for six hours on the tarmac in Vienna, Austria, after the chartered flight stopped there to refuel.

Passengers told the Birmingham Mail they were told to disembark in Austria because the airline ”ran out of cash to fund the last leg of the trip.”

When the passengers, each of whom had paid on average $800 for their ticket, refused to either leave the plane or pay the $31,500 for fuel demanded by the crew, a six-hour standoff ensued.

The passengers grew so angry with Comtel during the standoff that Austrian police had to be called.  They were eventually led under security escort to cash machines where they pooled together enough money to get the flight back in the air.

The flight, which should have landed in Birmingham last Saturday, arrived, instead, on Tuesday morning.

The flight was delayed from the start, moved from a Saturday departure to Tuesday, because of a conflict between tour operator Skyjet and Comtel, which had hired the plane and the crew from a Spanish company, Mint Airways.

Konrad Bhupinder, managing director of Comtel Air, earlier told the Press Association that Skyjet, which reserved the flight tickets, is responsible for the problem because the company had not paid Comtel for the flights.

“We only organize flights if the tickets have been paid for,” Bhupinder said.

The confusion and sudden flight cancellations have left as many as 600 people stranded in both India and England.  The passengers aboard the “ransom” flight are said, however, to be the only ones left stranded mid-flight.

Comtel Air introduced its lower-cost flights between Birmingham and Amritsar last month.  The Birmingham Airport is said to have also started an investigation into Comtel.

Despite the mid-flight turbulence experienced by its customers, Comtel’s spokesman says the airline will continue to operate.

“There is no chance of that,” Kandra said when asked if the company was going bust.  “Comtel is a very strong company.”