Fliers ‘lose sleep’ over flight times

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Flying to Europe or the US can be an exciting prospect, but it also means spending a sleepless night as airlines operating on these routes have flights taking off at odd times, post-midnight, much to the discomfort of children and the old undertaking these journeys.

At least 23 flights to the Gulf and Europe from the three Kerala airports take off between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day and as it’s mandatory for passengers to check-in three hours prior to departure, the whole affair gets more tedious than it needs to be.

“People like us who live in Alappuzha or Kottayam need to leave at least three hours ahead to reach the airport on time and even after spending much of the night awake, breakfast is served on board the flight an hour after take-off.

This upsets bodily functions, more so for those who are ill or old. The ordeal does not end there as there is also the long wait for connecting flights to Europe,” grumbles Ms Mini Vinod, a teacher in a CBSE school who recently returned from a trip to Europe.

The grouse of passengers like her is genuine as those departing from Kochi need to take connecting flights from other metros, Qatar or Dubai for Europe or USA. A survey by airport authorities puts the number of passengers travelling from the state to the West at 3,000 on an average.

But ask Indian authorities and they throw up their hands, helplessly, saying most airports in Europe and the US are under a night flight ban. The last one to curtail flights after sunset is Frankfurt Airport as a German court has ruled in favour of a night flight ban, turning down a plea by Lufthansa Airline.

“Unlike us, many of the European and US airports don’t operate flights at night. So airlines draw up schedules to make sure they reach there during the day. As the journeys are nearly 14 hours long, the flights take off from here early morning.

We allow them whatever slot they demand as India has a Fixed Freedom Traffic policy,” says Director General of Civil Aviation, E.K. Bharat Bhushan, explaining the problem is not confined to airports in Kerala but is common to Asia.

The only solution would be to introduce direct flights to Europe and the US, believes Mr Paulose K. Mathew, chairman, Kerala chapter of the Travel Agent Federation of India. “Currently there are no direct flights in these sectors from the state.

Airlines schedule early morning flights to allow passengers to board connecting flights from the Gulf. The government should enter into bi-lateral agreements with European countries and the US to allow

Air India too to operate services to these destinations,” he suggests, however, lamenting that the national carrier has not been able to even make use of routes available in the Gulf sector.

“Hampered by strikes and poor in-flight services, Air India is finding it hard to compete with airlines like the Emirates,” Mr Mathew notes.

Director of Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL), A.C.K. Nair reveals top CIAL officials have visited European countries to persuade foreign carriers to start direct flights from Kochi by offering them concessions.

With airlines such as Lufthansa, Cathy Pacific and British Airways mooting India operations, CIAL has offered them concessions in landing, parking, and other airport fees.

They will, however, need the approval of the DGCA and also the signing of bilateral agreements between the countries concerned, to take the CIAL up on its offer.

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