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Hundreds of UAE residents are among thousands of passengers who have been stranded in India after Air India Express cancelled or delayed more than 70 international and domestic flights due to senior crew members calling in sick.

Entrepreneur Kishor Kumar was one of those impacted by the flight cancellation. “I was scheduled to fly from Kochi to Sharjah at 2.10am,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times from India. “When I reached the airport, the flight was still showing as departing on time. However, by 11.30am, the check-in gates had still not opened and we were informed that there may be some delays.”

It was soon after midnight that the passengers were informed that the flight had been cancelled. “There was an uproar over there when the cancellation was announced,” he said. “There was one person who absolutely needed to join work today. There was another person who needed to attend an interview. Many people needed to get back to the UAE urgently.”

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In a video shared by Kishor, one person can be seen saying that his visa expired in two days and that he needed to get back to the UAE immediately.

As news of the flight cancellations spread, ticket prices of other airlines shot up. “One person needed to get back urgently and he immediately booked a ticket on another flight paying Rs. 35,000 (approximately Dh1539),” said Kishor. “That is what people generally pay for a two way ticket.“

The situation has raised concerns within the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which is closely monitoring the developments. According to sources within, the cancellations and delays began on Tuesday night and persisted into Wednesday morning, forcing the airline to curtail its scheduled operations.

Senior crew
According to Kishor, passengers were told that the flight cancellations were caused by several senior crew members calling in sick.

“We were told that according to airline policies, flights cannot operate without a certain number of senior crew,” he said.

The sources said that some senior crew members switched off their mobile phones just before flight operations, citing health issues. The sudden shortage of crew members led to flights being grounded, affecting both domestic and international routes.

Passengers on the affected flights were given the option to either reschedule their trip for a later date or cancel the flight and get a full refund.

Kishor said that since he was not in a hurry to return to the UAE, he went home and rescheduled his trip. “My family who had dropped me off had already reached home when I called them to come back and pick me up,” he said. “On Wednesday morning I called the office of Air India express and they rescheduled my flight for May 12.”

This incident comes shortly after Vistara encountered similar issues on April 1, when more than 100 flights were severely affected due to pilots calling in sick.

The move by senior crew members has highlighted operational challenges faced by the airline industry.

May 8, 2024 5:23 p.m. 546

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