Life At An Airport (When Stranded)

Mumbai International Airport, Mumbai, 20 September 2017, 0830 hours:

What works after a long, hard night in the airport trenches? Hot, strong, chai, that’s what. And even that had seemed to be running low the past two hours.

It’s been a veryyy long night but dawn is breaking finally and the incessant rain has stopped. (Though I hear a cyclone is bearing down on Mumbai from the Arabian Sea).

I came in to the airport last night around 11 pm for a 4.10 am Qatar Airways flight to Doha, Qatar. We came in from Pune through Lonavala into Mumbai, with a heavy, lashing downpour all along the way. Meanwhile, a Spicejet aircraft skidded off the main runway and got stuck in the mud, effectively shutting down the runway. Weather conditions deteriorated further and I heard airport staff discussing wind speeds of 35-40 knots an hour. By that time, all flights were disrupted, a few incoming ones having been diverted to other airports.

The subsequent five hours were quite an experience for all present – pilots and cabin crew, Air Traffic Controllers, passengers, airline ground staff, airport and security staff, food outlet employees, housekeeping … for everybody.

Runway is still blocked. Many flights cancelled, tempers running high. Having morning chai in this chaos seemed the smartest thing I could.

This is what aviation professionals train for, prepare themselves for – what we in the aviation training industry call ‘abnormal’ or emergency situations. And such times of adversity are times of performance under extremely trying conditions, with every part of the industry communicating, coordinating and taking decisions to ensure the safety of people. Decisions such as informing passengers with connecting flights that they should go back and rest and reschedule them for the next day. Qatar Airways ground staff was very impressive, very efficient, in my opinion.

One aspect of the new Mumbai airport that I believe should be revisited is the need for global standard wifi. Amd also the need for more food and beverage and recreation outlets before the immigration point. Many global airports have robust F&B amd recreation and shopping infrastructure in the vicinity of check-in area and this helps add to ancillary revenues but also plays an important role in providing passengers much needed occupation and opportuntities to relax in trying times or if they happen to arrive early. It would possibly defuse some tensions instead of adding to them since (in the current airport layout) there were long lines at the 3 little snack and coffee outlets. There’s also a comfortable coffee shop.

But all that immediate tension has passed. This wasn’t a harrowing or extreme situation, but it was a difficult one that could have escalated. The Mumbai airport and the airlines and ground handling agencies, ATC,  passengers all eventually managed to negotiate the difficulties and are now trying to emerge from it. The runway has to be cleared for flight schedules to get back to some predictability. Rebookings have to be achieved.  Shifts will change, fresh energy will come into the airport, the weather will change … It is a new dawn now and at this point, it looks promising that I may fly to Doha some time this morning – am now standing in queue to get my boarding pass. Like many others who are flying to different destinations.

Let’s see what the day brings forth.

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