Thiruvananthapuram: Passengers from Kerala to Middle East destinations are going through a harrowing time with AirIndia announcing cancellation of many of its flights since last week.
    
Passengers created unruly scenes at the airport here yesterday when a Sharjah-bound flight was cancelled at the last minute. Though the reason for cancellation was cited as "technical," the flight was learnt to have been diverted for Haj operations to other states.
    
Airport sources said though many flights would have to be diverted for Haj pilgrimage, only the AirIndia management was to be blamed for last-minute cancellations as the Haj operations are all pre-planned.
    
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala protested the frequent cancellations and charged AI with levying "exorbitant fares" from Gulf-bound passengers.

They wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the matter and prevail upon the authorities concerned to make alternative arrangements.
    
Chandy, in a statement here, said he had brought the matter to the Prime Minister's notice at the recent 'Emerging Kerala' event in Kochi. Chennithala sent a letter to Singh, seeking his immediate intervention to find a solution to the problem.
    
Shashi Tharoor, MP, representing the capital in the Lok Sabha, also criticised AirIndia, saying, "The goodwill of the national carrier is at stake" by ignoring the plight of passengers, some of whom faced the prospect of losing jobs.
    
Travel agents say it is incomprehensible why AirIndia cancels flights in busy and profit-making sectors like the Kerala-Gulf region, leaving out lean sectors in other parts of the country where even fuel cost was not being recovered from flight operations.
    
Most flights cancelled are AirIndia Express flights, 90 percent of which were being operated from Kerala.
    
AirIndia had cancelled 168 flights from three international airports in Kerala -- Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode -- to Gulf destinations from September 17,
Kerala State Travel Agents Association president K V Muraleedharan said.
    
Scores of passengers, including those who had to report for duty and join new postings in time, are now running from pillar to post to find other flights. Seizing on the chance, private airlines have begun increasing fares to the Gulf steeply, he said.

(Agencies)

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