Air India relief flight departs for Russia as stranded fliers face accommodation woes

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An Air India relief flight took off from Mumbai on Wednesday to pick up stranded passengers from the small Russian city of Magadan after their original San Francisco-bound flight had to make an emergency landing.

Footage shared by the Indian carrier showed ferry flight AI195 taking off from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) and is expected to arrive in the Russian city on June 8.

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The relief plane is carrying a support team, food, and “other essentials,” according to the carrier’s latest statement.

Over 220 passengers will be flown out of the Russian town after nearly 24 hours since the US-bound jet made an emergency landing owing to engine trouble.

Videos shared by a journalist on social media showed the passengers accommodated in a school with “bare minimum facilities.”

Many who are reportedly elderly were waiting anxiously as Air India, local embassy authorities and Russian officials planned for another flight to the original destination and for temporary shelter until then.

Additionally, a stranded passenger named Gagan told Indian broadcaster NDTV that there were many American citizens on the flight and that given the tensions between Russia and the US, “there are a lot a nervous people here.”

Air India has not supplied information on the citizenships or residencies held by the stranded passengers.

Following the wide circulation of the video, the Indian carrier, owned by Tata Sons, released a statement explaining the emergency landing and claiming “infrastructure limitations around the remote airport” for the use of mattresses on the floor of a school as makeshift accommodation.

“As we do not have any Air India staff based in the remote town of Magadan or in Russia, all ground support being provided to the passengers is the best possible in this unusual circumstance through our round the clock liaison with the Consulate General of India in Vladivostok, Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), local ground handlers, and the Russian authorities,” it said.

The airline also set up a dedicated hotline on Wednesday “to facilitate quicker updates to those concerned about passengers,” reachable on +911242641427.

The diversion of the Boeing 777 widebody aircraft comes a day after the chief of the world’s largest carrier, United Airlines, raised safety concerns about airlines flying through Russian airspace with American citizens onboard.

Russia has barred US airlines and other foreign carriers from using its airspace, in retaliation for Washington banning Russian flights over the US in March 2022 after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine.

If the relief flight proceeds to San Francisco from Magadan, it would mark one of the first direct flights from Russia to the US in months.

However, Air India and some Gulf-based, Chinese and African carriers continue to fly over Russia, making flying times shorter and American rivals uncompetitive.

With Reuters

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