We’re used to airlines penny-pinching. Fees for checking bags, more legroom, and even a miniscule snack – we pay reluctantly, perhaps with a grumble. But Comtel Air has reached a new low: a flight Thursday from India to England wouldn’t leave the gate until the passengers ponied up – in cash, that is – for the airline’s fuel and airport costs.
The Comtel Air flight from Amritsar, India to Birmingham, England made a standard pit stop in Vienna to refuel. But the airline then turned into the corporate equivalent of a broke bunch of roadtripping college kids trying to fill the gas tank. The flight attendants were seen begging all travelers to throw a few bucks in so that the plane could leave the airport. A video shot aboard the plane records the flight attendant telling the passengers, “We need some money to pay the fuel, to pay the airport, to pay everything we need,” she said. “If you want to go to Birmingham, you have to pay.”
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But this fee wasn’t a few pennies in a cup. It was more than $200 per traveler. According to one flyer, the airline needed £24,000 cash ($37,800) in order to push back from the gate and continue the journey to the U.K. Passengers opened their billfolds to pool the money. As for those that didn’t have the funds? Head for the ATM, Comtel Air’s crew allegedly said. The flight was stranded in Vienna for more than six hours while the cash was collected.
But it remains unfathomable that the airline would request gas money, in cash no less, from the passengers. The extra fees for snacks and baggage, we flyers understand, are for added value. The airport fees and fuel costs are included in the already hefty cost of the plane ticket. Just look at the taxes tacked on to any flight cost. Comtel Air’s majority shareholder Bhunpinder Kandra told British news outlet Channel 4 that a full refund will be given to the passengers. And the plane did finally land in Birmingham. But it doesn’t take away the shock or humiliation that the flyers suffered as the low-cost airline tried to save a buck. After this saga, will they be able to save face?