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Air India Passengers Fume After Spending 9 Hours On The Tarmac

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A combination of London fog and aviation rules left an Air India flight stuck on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport for nine hours Monday, reports Agence France Presse.

The flight originated in Ahmedabad, India and was Heathrow-bound via Mumbai until heavy fog forced the Boeing 777 to divert to Gatwick at about 8:00 a.m. local time. It did not take off again until 5:00 p.m.

"The plane was diverted and we were given to understand that the weather would clear in one and a half hours." An Air India employee told the BBC. "It was one and a half hours and they would be back in 90 minutes, so it didn't make sense to deplane the passengers at that time."

The employee continued to comment that it was a few hours after the diverted landing that the crew was informed the next take-off slot would be at 1:30 p.m.

But, because of regulations that limit the length of the flight crew's shift, the plane was unable to make the trip from Gatwick to Heathrow at that time. According to the Daily Mail, passengers were told at about 1:00 p.m. that a replacement crew was en route from Heathrow. But, after a few more hours, an announcement claimed that the new crew got lost in the Gatwick airport.

"A group of passengers gathered close to the cockpit demanding an explanation from the pilot, but the pilots still didn't come out," said Rahul Joglekar, a passenger and BBC journalist.

Police were reportedly called to prevent what the BBC called "a breach of the peace as tempers among passengers flared."

But, as one passenger told the Daily Mail: "There were rumors flying around the whole cabin but I have to admit people were calm and anti-confrontational."

According to the BBC, Air India said that passengers would have been removed from the plane had the airline known the delay would be so long.

A spokesman for Gatwick said it was the airline's decision to keep the passengers on board instead of arranging alternative transport to Heathrow, which is only about 44 miles from Gatwick, AFP reports.

Upon arrival at Heathrow, Air India apparently offered passengers a letter offering its "sincere apologies for any inconvenience."

In April 2010, the US Department of Transportation instituted protections against tarmac delays of three hours or longer. Under the new rule, US airlines will have to let passengers off the plane after three hours or face potentially huge fines. This three-hour rule seems to be working as no fines had been levied as of June 2011.

Photo: Rick Schlamp/Flickr

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