Once upon a time, air travelers would occasionally have their Realities interrupted by young men with beards and a grievance, who would rise in the aisles to command that a flight proceed forthwith to some place other than where it was originally intended to go.
Hijackings. For a while, all the rage.
That was then, and this is now. But following the principle of everything old is new again, it seems that we may now be upon the dawn of a new age of hijackings. Except this time, passengers are being hijacked by their own airlines.
Let us consider the case of a recent Comtel Air flight scheduled to wing its way from India to Great Britain. When the plane stopped for fuel in Vienna, the crew informed the passengers that unless they coughed up $31,000, the plane would fly no further.
Britain’s Channel 4 news broadcast video showing 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.”
Some passengers said they were sent off the plane to cash machines in Vienna to raise the money.
Even as the Vienna robbery was underway, 190 passengers on a Comtel flight arest in Amritsar were informed that the plane would never take off, unless each would-be flyer forked over $200 apiece.
A spokesman for the airline boldly declared that these robberies were not his company’s fault, and furthermore insisted that the high-flying firm was in fine financial shape.
Bhupinder Kandra, the airline’s majority shareholder, told the Associated Press from Vienna that travel agents had taken the passengers’ money before the planes left but had not passed it on to the airline.
“This is not my problem,” he said. “The problem is with the agents.”
Kandra insisted Thursday the company was still solvent.
“We have not run out of money,” he said. “We have enough.”
Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org, a tubes-outfit advocating for airline passengers, cautioned that the Comtel hijacking is hardly unique.
“There’s plenty of absurdity in airline land,” she said.
So stay tuned.