MUMBAI: Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways offloaded or cancelled the bookings of scores of passengers, largely students, who were booked to fly to the US from cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru on Thursday. The students alleged that the airline refused to rebook them on other flights, scheduled to depart in the coming days. With semesters set to commence soon, the students were left with no option but to spend over two lakh rupees for a last-minute, one-way ticket on other carriers.
“Etihad customer care official said I’ll have to wait for 20 days to be rebooked, a waiting time I can ill afford,” said a student, requesting anonymity. The sudden cancellations have sparked panic among parents and students booked to fly to US on Etihad in the coming days. On Thursday, the cheapest one-way ticket to the US for travel this week from Mumbai began at Rs 1.40 lakh, but were offered on flights over 27 hours long. Most tickets are priced over Rs 2 lakh.
“I was on my way to the airport to board my 2.40 am flight from Bengaluru to Abu Dhabi when I received a mail from Etihad stating they have cancelled my entire ticket booking. I had an onward ticket to New York,” said another student, who also declined to be quoted. “I had booked the Etihad flight in early June and paid Rs 94,000 for a one-way trip. Today I booked another ticket, this time on Air India which cost Rs 2.19 lakh. It’s for travel on August 10, that was the cheapest I could find,” he said adding that Etihad said it had refunded his ticket but the amount will take between 7 to 45 days to be transferred into his bank account.
An Etihad spokesperson said: “As a result of operational payload restrictions, Etihad Airways has been forced to reduce the number of passengers on flight EY101 from Abu Dhabi to New York (JFK) on Thursday 4 August” .
A `payload restriction’ is a cut imposed on the volume of passengers (or cargo), in order to reduce the weight of the aircraft and compensate for increased fuel uptake, decreased engine performance etc. A flight taking a longer than normal route, which demands higher fuel uptake or a flight taking off on a particularly hot day, which affects engine performance, would come under `payload restriction’.
On Thursday, Etihad operated its Abu Dhabi-New York flight tracking the usual route, flying the same aircraft type, the A350, with roughly the same flying time. The ground temperature at Abu Dhabi wasn’t higher than normal. But in the past few days its flights have been departing late. Etihad’s Abu Dhabi-New York flight EY101 departed five hours behind schedule on August 2 and it was two hours late on August 3. The Thursday flight was delayed only an hour.
Aishwarya Nagori tweeted: “You guys are over booked and playing strategies out there. Better reschedule our flights from Mumbai to Chicago..” @iamrealvinod tweeted that the Bengaluru-Abu Dhabi flight EY-217 was supposed to leave at 4.40 am, but at 4.30 am the airline informed the US-bound passengers that the said flight won’t take-off. “There were about 300 passengers who were waiting..The ground staff had no clue..There were several old people and children up all night and Etihad did not provide proper help or on time communication…” The Abu Dhabi flight finally left at 8 am after US-bound passengers were offloaded.
A parent, of one of the affected student, Bhushan Patil tweeted: “Pathetic service at Mumbai airport. Our kids have been told that the August 04 Mumbai-New York flight has been cancelled whereas the website shows the flight is on schedule. Few people have been allowed to proceed for security check.” @AHaldipurA tweeted that Etihad cancelled its flight to Washington. “Customer service is horrendous, Can’t rebook me for 20 days,” the passenger tweeted.
With reference to the denied boarding, Etihad said its teams are reaching out to notify affected passengers in order to minimise the disruption to them. “We regret any inconvenience caused by this last-minute change, and we will be providing compensation to those affected,” it said adding that affected passengers could call their contact centre (+971 600 555 666 – UAE number)or visit their website, mobile app for more information.





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