7 April 2008

South Africa: Angry Travellers Stranded

Cape Town — Dozens of fuming travellers were stranded in Cape Town during the weekend after their Dubai-bound aircraft apparently hit a bird during take-off.

Passengers of the Emirates flight, some of whom had missed business meetings and job interviews abroad, scrambled frantically on Sunday to make bookings with alternative airlines.

The Emirates flight was initially scheduled to leave for Dubai from Cape Town International Airport at 6.15pm on Friday.

But, just 20 minutes after take-off, the plane had turned around and landed again, passengers said.

They had been told that a bird had hit one of the aircraft's engines and that the flight could not leave until the problem was solved.

The Dubai-based airline just last month opened its office doors in Cape Town.

At the expense of Emirates, about 120 passengers were put up at the Southern Sun hotel near the V&A Waterfront on Friday night.

They returned to the airport on Saturday after being told their flight would depart at 10pm.

However, the flight was again delayed, with the airline citing technical difficulties for the hold-up.

At 2am on Sunday, they were sent back to the hotel, but they complained that by Sunday afternoon they had still not had clarity from Emirates on when they would depart or whether alternative arrangements had been made for them.

South African-born businessman Anthony Barter, who works in Canada, said most passengers had accepted that the flight had been delayed for their own safety.

"When the bird hit the plane, it was a very smooth transition, you wouldn't even have known that anything was wrong except that we heard a loud bang," he said.

"Twenty minutes later, we landed again."

Barter had planned to travel to Canada via Dubai and was one of many people who complained that they had missed their connecting flights as a result of the delay.

Marlies Bull, a protection officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, said she would miss an important strategy meeting in Darfur.

"I was supposed to be in the meeting tomorrow (Monday), which is why I planned to leave on Friday. Now, even if I leave tonight, I would still have to stay another night in Darfur because I've missed my connecting flights," she said on Sunday.

She said that while they had been well taken care of by the airline they had not had any representative from Emirates address them on how or when they would get to their destinations.

Some passengers had tried to contact the airline on Sunday, but to no avail because their offices were closed.

As a result, a number of passengers made desperate last-minute attempts to find other flights.

Karoo resident Ingrid van der Merwe said she had holidayed at her daughter's home in Paarl and had scheduled to visit children in New Zealand, via Dubai, at the weekend.

"I don't understand why it should be necessary for us to make alternative arrangements. That is something the airline should be taking care of," she said.

The local and international offices of Emirates could not be reached for comment by end of Sunday.

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