HUNDREDS of British air passengers are stranded abroad after a UK travel agent went bust following an Austrian airline’s decision to cancel its flights between Britain and India this weekend.
Comtel Air, already mired in controversy after staff apparently ordered a plane-load of passengers to come up with more than £20,000 between them to pay for the fuel to get their aircraft off the runway, has now cancelled four flights between Birmingham and the Indian city of Amritsar.
With hundreds of people already stranded, the situation worsened last night when the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced Essex-based travel company Skyjet – which sold Comtel flights on the same route – had ceased trading.
The authority said all forward bookings with Skyjet were now cancelled and advised customers not to go to their airport.
However, the CAA said Skyjet was covered by its Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Atol) scheme, and that it would be able to bring home the firm’s 200 customers who are currently overseas.
It added that passengers who had booked Atol-protected trips with Skyjet but had not travelled would be able to claim a full refund.
For other Comtel passengers, the CAA said those who booked their flights as part of a package would be protected, but that people who booked flight-only deals may not be financially covered.
Yesterday some of the 180 Comtel passengers who finally made it home to Birmingham after allegedly being “held to ransom” on the runway on Tuesday described their ordeal.
Ranbir Dehal, from Wolverhampton, said: “We were escorted to the cashpoint to take money out. They said there was a deficit of nearly 24,000 euros.”
Reena Rindi, who was on board with her two-year-old daughter, said: “We wanted to go home. We’d been stranded for about three to four days.
“We all got together, took our money out of purses – £130 (each). The children under two went free.
“If we didn’t have the money, they were making us go one by one outside to get the cash out.”
Comtel Air was yesterday still insisting it is financially “strong”, and promised refunds for passengers who had paid for fuel.
Director of passenger services Bhunpinder Kandra said: “I have heard what happened. It shouldn’t have happened, and I will investigate why it happened.
“The people who had to pay the money will receive a refund.”
Asked if the company was going bust, he said: “There is no chance of that.”