Other passengers have been stuck in India after flights were cancelled.
Those on board said they were “held to ransom” for six hours on the runway in Austrian capital Vienna after the flight with Austrian airline Comtel Air from Amritsar stopped to refuel. Ranbir Dehal, one of the passengers, said: “We were escorted to the cash point to take money out. They said there was a deficit of nearly 24,000 euros and they gave us receipts.” More than 180 passengers, who should have arrived in Birmingham on Saturday, finally reached the city late on Tuesday.
The airline said it would investigate the claims and hoped to swiftly return the passengers to the UK from India.
Bhupinder Kandra, director of passenger services for Comtel Air, said: “I have heard what happened, it shouldn’t have happened, and I will investigate why it happened. People who had to pay the money will receive a refund.”
Reena Rindi, who was on the plane with her two-year-old daughter, told Channel 4 News: “We’d been stranded for about three to four days. Who was going to take us home?” She said passengers agreed to pay in order to fly to Birmingham. “They were making us go one by one outside in Vienna to get the cash out,” she added.
Another woman who flew from Amritsar to Birmingham via Vienna told the BBC: “We had to pay 150 euros Tuesday night in Vienna to get back to Birmingham and then they wouldn’t fly us back to Birmingham so we had to pay ourselves to come back.”
Comtel Air introduced cheap flights from Birmingham to Amritsar in the Punjab, via Vienna, last month.
Birmingham Airport, which said the airline had been operating successfully to Amritsar, expressed concern and added that it had started an investigation.
Kandra said he hoped the situation would be resolved “within the week” and that a flight would be leaving Amritsar for the UK on Friday.
Amarjit Duggal, from Great Barr in Birmingham, flew from Amritsar last week after scattering her mother’s ashes. She said her father, sister and uncle were still there and did not know when they would be able to return home. She said it was very distressing as they were still in mourning.
“They were due to leave Amritsar on Sunday at 10:30 in the morning. They did not get the information as to what’s happening with the airline,” she said. Some airline customers who booked through Takhar Travel, in Smethwick in the West Midlands, told BBC News that they were concerned as they did not know if their flights would go ahead.
About 30 of the passengers who experienced problems in Vienna along with relatives of people stranded in India, went to the travel agent on Wednesday but said they were told the manager was not available. Police were called after staff became overwhelmed by concerned customers.
A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware that a number of British nationals have been affected by difficulties with Comtel airlines flights from Amritsar to Birmingham via Vienna. We have been, and remain, in touch with the relevant authorities, including the airline, for clarification on how British nationals due to fly in the coming days will be affected,” adding that “we took a number of calls from distressed British nationals and we have provided consular assistance to those who have sought it.”
He said the government’s “current advice to anyone affected is to contact their tour operator, travel agent or the airline for information about alternative arrangements. They must monitor travel advice for India for updates.”
DGCA warns airlines on fares
As airfares rose in the last couple of weeks primarily due to cancellation of Kingfisher flights, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Thursday warned airlines not to raise air ticket prices beyond a given range. “There are price bands. Probably, the airlines are operating on the highest bands. ... We are closely monitoring the fares,” DGCA chief E K Bharat Bhushan said here.