An Air India flight landed safely in San Francisco on Thursday carrying 216 passengers and 16 crew members from Magadan in far east Russia where they were stranded for two days after the original aircraft had to be diverted following a mid-air engine glitch.
The airline apologised to the customers for the "extended delay", regretted the disruption and inconvenience caused to them and also announced full refund of their ticket price along with a voucher for future travel on Air India.
Air India's non-stop flight AI-173 for San Francisco had taken off from Delhi on June 6 at 4.23 am and was scheduled to land in San Francisco the next day at 7 am (local time).
However, one of the aircraft's engines suffered a glitch mid-air, forcing the cockpit crew to land the aircraft in emergency at an airport in the port city of Magadan.
On Wednesday, Air India dispatched a ferry flight from Mumbai to Magadan, with food, essentials and a team of engineers, to fly the stranded passengers and crew to their destination, which landed there at 0614 hours (local time) on June 8 and later departed for San Francisco from the port city at 1027 hours.
"Flight AI173D landed safely in San Francisco (SFO) at 0007 hours on 08 June 2023 (local time)," the carrier said.
The touchdown for these 232 persons at San Francisco at 7 minutes past midnight on Thursday, however, happened after more than 56 hours from the time they stepped in on the aircraft.
Magadan is located on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk in north-eastern Russia and falls under the administrative centre of Magadan Oblast. The port town is about 10,167 kilometres from Moscow. It takes around 7 hours and 37 minutes to reach Magadan from Moscow by air.
Air India, which is now owned by the home-grown salt-to-steel conglomerate Tata Group, has announced it will compensate all passengers with "full refund and voucher for travel in future" for this "extended delay".
Besides expressing "regret" for the disruption and inconvenience, the airline also "sincerely apologised" to the customers for the "extended delay" in bringing them to their destination, as per the communication sent out to customers by its Chief Customer Experience and Ground Handling Officer Rajesh Dogra.
"We will fully refund the fare for your journey and, in addition, provide you a voucher for future travel on Air India," Dogra said in the communication.
Among the passengers, there were less than 50 American citizens on board the flight that was diverted to Magadan and the US Department of State had to make an emergency landing in the remote city, the US Department of States had said.
"We understand that there were less than 50 US citizens aboard that flight. We also understand that a relief aircraft is expected to arrive later today to assist the Air India flight and the passengers continue on with their route," Vedant Patel, deputy spokesperson of the State department, told reporters on Wednesday at his daily news conference.
The private full-service carrier justified its flight crew's decision to land at a place which did not have adequate facilities for the stranded people, saying that the "safety" was the highest priority throughout.
"The aircraft encountered a technical issue whereby the pilots received an indication of low oil pressure in one engine. Out of caution, they elected to land the aircraft at a nearby airport rather than continue the journey," Air India said.
It also said that while the facilities in Magadan, a small city, may not have met the standard we would normally aim to provide, "we are grateful for your tolerance and understanding that our local agents and crew did their best under the circumstances."
After initially stating that the passengers and crew were accommodated "in hotels locally", Air India later said that the "infrastructure constraints" forced it to lodge them in make-shift accommodations.
Air India in its communication also said that though it dispatched a relief flight at the earliest possible opportunity given the need to obtain insurance and flight plan approvals, clearly, the duration of delay was "long", and the "experience was not what we aspire to offer".