Air travelers have been forced in recent years to pay extra for everything from pillows to leg room to assigned seats. Now, two charter flights from India to England have taken things to a new low. Twice in the last week, Comtel Airline customers have been forced to cough up cash to pay for fuel and landing fees. In one instance, a flight from India to England stopped in Austria, where it was stranded until travelers raised $31,000, supposedly for fuel. Here, a brief guide:
Passengers were asked to chip in for gas money?
Yep. On Tuesday, a flight by charter airline Comtel took off from Amritsar, India, and was headed for Birmingham, England. On a fuel stop in Vienna, Austria, passengers (there were about 180 on the flight) were asked to pitch in about $200 a piece to raise $31,000, supposedly to cover fuel costs and other fees. "We need some money to pay the fuel, to pay the airport, to pay everything we need. If you want to go to Birmingham, you have to pay," a cabin crew member reportedly told passengers.
And people really paid?
They sure did. "It was as if we'd been held hostage against our wills" and "held to ransom," says Lal Dadrah, a passenger on the plane. Fliers were allowed off the plane to hit the ATM, and the ordeal took nearly seven hours. The flight eventually reached Birmingham — with many angry passengers on board.
And there was a second incident?
On Thursday, Comtel again asked passengers on this route to contribute money. This time, the airline asked passengers for about $200 each before the plane would even take off from India. The flight was ultimately canceled, leaving nearly 200 people stranded.
Why is Comtel demanding this money?
Comtel, a charter company based in Austria, says that Skyjet, a British firm that sold tickets for the flights, suddenly went out of business and never delivered this money to Comtel. But Mint Lineas Aviation, the Spanish company that owns the aircraft and supplies the crew, put the blame on Comtel, saying the company wasn't paying its bills and also owed money to the airport authority in India.
On Thursday, Mint said it would stop working with Comtel because of "unresolved financial questions." The British Civil Aviation Authority has stepped in to make sure travelers make it home on other airlines. Comtel's flights have been canceled for the weekend, though Bhupinder Kandra, the charter airline's majority shareholder, insists the company has not run out of money and that the "show will go on."