Severe winter and fog are still to enter the picture, but flight delays are already common around the country. There was a 150% rise in October in the number of domestic flights delayed from September. These interruptions, says the civil aviation regulator, affected more than 60,000 passengers in October as against the usual monthly count of 25,000 passengers.

According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, a total of 62,011 passengers booked on Indian carriers were hit by flight delays in October. In comparison, 24,250 passengers were affected the previous month, 21,701 in July, and 33,904 in August.

“Technical snags, especially in aircraft engine, led to most delays,” an official with Air India told on condition of anonymity. “Since October has several festivals, flights are packed and there are more trips.” The official explained that in the event of a flight cancellation on a regular business day passengers are accommodated in the next flight. “But it is impossible to do that during the festival period as most flights are filled.”

Engine trouble also caused most of the 10,127 cancellations in October, said the DGCA official.

Of the 62,011 flyers who got delayed in October, 50,773 were travelling by Air India. The national career, in fact, has been the major contributor to the increase in flight delays every month. In September too, out of the total 24,250 passengers delayed, 18,346 were flying by Air India. On average, their trips were held up by two hours.

The numbers speak volumes about Air India’s poor performance. Three out of every 100 flyers of the national carrier were stranded at airports during the festival season, whereas against this, only 0.2% of the passengers of airlines like Indigo, SpiceJet and Jet Airways were hit.

As a result of this inefficiency, Air India had to spend Rs 1.8 crore on providing refreshments and refunds to its delayed passengers apart from rescheduling their flights in October, said the Air India official.

Staff shortage

Running into severe losses, the national carrier has let go of hundreds of cabin crew and ground staff in the last few years. In 2014 alone, it has sacked over 200 employees.

The resultant shortage of staff is a major reason for the flight delays. “According to DGCA guidelines, a flight attendant cannot be rostered for more than 1,000 hours of flight duty in a year,” the Air India official said. “Moreover, because the airline is short-staffed and its existing crew refuses to clock overtime, it is often left helpless.”