December 13, 2005


Biman has messed up big time with the hajj flights. The trouble started when the minister for civil aviation Mir Nasiruddin fixed airfare of the national carrier Biman at a higher rate to carry the 50,000 hajjis for the pilgrimage to Mecca. The travel agents protested and threatened to boycott Biman and after the Prime minister's intervention, Nasir resigned. To mend the scar, this had became a political issue of the new minister, who vowed to carry 59,000 hajjis with Biman. Two aircrafts were chartered for hajj flights not to disrupt Biman's regular schedules.

The prime minister opened the first hajj flight and then the nightmare began. The five hajj flights of Biman were cancelled between Sunday night and Monday evening causing a chaos in the Zia International Airport, Dhaka as Biman employees were scrambling to reschedule the flights of several hundred stranded pilgrims. Much later the passengers were informed that the flights could not fly to Jeddah as they did not have the landing permission from the Saudi Authorities (Oops, probably somebody forgot). The stranded hajjis protested and ransacked Biman offices in ZIA airport. Amidst all Sujat Ali, age 55 died of a cardiac arrest at the airport at about 1:30am Monday while asleep in the airport floor. Finally after 30 hours hajj flights resumed leaving bitter experiences to the mostly elderly pilgrims.

I wonder whether the relatives of Sujat Ali or any passenger will ever sue Biman for its mishandling of flights. They can seek compensation under rule 240. Biman however claimed that it had arranged hotel accommodations for the pilgrims whose flights had been cancelled but many of the pilgrimage including Sujat Ali refused. This is not believable as the Biman officials had little idea about what was going on. Will there ever be an enquiry? It is ironic that the government of this so called Islamic country treats Muslim pilgrims like commodities.

Udpate: Biman's problem persisted in Tuesday also even though an additional 387-seater airbus 330-300, chartered from Air Luxor of Portugal arrived in Dhaka for carrying the pilgrims. Guess what! Somebody again forgot to get the landing permission in Jeddah from the Saudi government. Many pilgrims were seen left stranded in the airport Tuesday night, as the Biman officials were trying to accommodate them in regular scheduled flights. Meanwhile the aviation minister said that these kinds of delays can happen everywhere due to unavoidable circumstances. He also said that Biman is not liable to pay compensation as the deceased passenger was not issued a boarding pass. After all what's the life of a commoner is worth?


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