Fliers Stranded at London Airport for 9 Hours, Only 45 Miles From Destination

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Suzanne Plunkett / Bloomberg News

London has two major airports: Heathrow and Gatwick. They’re practically interchangeable for fliers heading to the British capital. But not for Air India.

Each airport lies in the city’s suburbs, Heathrow to the west and Gatwick to the south. All told, they’re 45 miles away from one another. So why did Air India divert a Heathrow-bound flight to Gatwick because of weather problems — and then keep the passengers corralled on the plane until the skies cleared?

The flight from Mumbai was due to land at Heathrow around 8 a.m. Sunday. But due to an inexperienced flight crew uncomfortable landing in heavy fog, the plane was cleared to land at Gatwick. (Though we can’t imagine the weather was much different at Heathrow.)

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Nonetheless, the airline told passengers they’d be able to land at Heathrow just 90 minutes later, so they were kept on board. But the 9:30 a.m. landing slot turned into 1:30 p.m., which exceeded the flight crew’s maximum work time. Instead of freeing the fliers, Air India trucked in a new crew to command the plane – from Heathrow, of all places. Adding even more rage to the situation, NDTV reports the relief crew got lost in the airport.

Gatwick staff said they attempted to help the trapped passengers, giving them water. “If [Air India] had allowed them off, the passengers would have come into the terminal. We would have helped with their welfare.” But instead, the fliers sat and waited, foodless, as Air India’s caterers were located at that other airport 45 miles away.

Of course, there are buses that connect the two airports, and frequent trains that run from each airport into the center of London, most travelers’ eventual destination, anyway. But we digress. The fliers reached their destination, Heathrow, just before 5:30 p.m., nearly doubling their scheduled 10-hour travel time. Air India offered its “sincere apologies for any inconvenience.”

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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