In a first for the aviation industry, passengers onboard a Tuesday flight from India to Britain were asked for money to refuel the plane. On a refueling stop in Vienna, flight staff said passengers could pay or get off.
Passengers on board a flight from the Indian city of Amritsar said Thursday that they were forced to collect money on board the plane to fund the remainder of their trip back to Birmingham, England.
Those onboard described being "held at ransom" for six hours on the runway in Vienna after the flight with Austrian airline Comtel Air stopped to refuel.
Footage broadcast by Britain's Channel 4 news showed a Comtel cabin crew member telling passengers, "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."
The 180 passengers said they were told to hand over £20,000 (23,500 euros) - that's around 130 euros per person - to complete the journey, and that some were sent to cash machines in Vienna when they said they couldn't provide the money.
"We all got together, took our money out of purses ... If we didn't have the money they were making us go one by one to get the cash out," one woman said.
"But the children under two went free," she added.
'Not my problem'
Bhupinder Kandra, majority stakeholder and managing director of Comtel Air, blamed the company which sold the tickets for the problem, saying "Skyjet had taken the money" but not passed it onto the airline.
"We only organize flights if the tickets have been paid for," Kandra said, adding that Comtel Air had "not run out of money."
"We have enough … This is not my problem," he insisted.
Crisis management expert Sue Ockwell described the affair as being "highly unusual in Europe" and expressed incredulity at Kandra's explanations, noting that it sounded like "a bad credit issue."
Whether or not Comtel Air was responsible for the bizarre incident, however, Ockwell was clear about what impact it would have.
"This is patently not going to do that airline any good at all," she said.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AP, AFP)
Editor: Michael Lawton