Strong winds force IndiGo to cut seating capacity on Delhi-Istanbul route

IndiGo will have to leave at least 20 per cent of its seats vacant in the Delhi-Istanbul flight, as strong winds over the Caspian Sea are forcing the airline to consume more fuel. This is the longest flight in IndiGo’s schedule.

The carrier is blocking 29 out of 185 seats in its A320 planes, and 49 out of 222 seats in the A321 models. The step may lead to commercial loss for the airline on this route, which has already been hit by the Pakistan airspace closure.

The route, which usually takes six and a half hours, now lasts as long as seven hours, given that jet streams as strong as 90 knots are making the journey longer. Flying through a jet stream increases time and fuel, as all aircraft travelling from east to west fly against strong winds.

According to norms, pilots carry 45 minutes of reserve fuel in order to fly to an alternative airport in case of emergency.

Flights sometimes take unusual routes to avoid this, or a take a fuel stop to fly for extra time. In fact, during the airspace closure by Pakistan, IndiGo was taking a fuel stop at Doha. The opposite happens when the aircraft flies from west to east, with IndiGo’s return flight from Istanbul-Delhi, which used to take six hours, now taking five and half hours.

In fact, most pilots are trained to reduce airspeed when winds move to their advantage. This is with the intent of saving fuel costs, not for reducing travel time.

In order to compensate for the extra fuel that the airline failed to forecast, it was leaving behind luggage of passengers, leading to massive inconvenience. Given this flight operates on a code share with Turkish Airlines to 13 European destinations, passengers reaching their final destinations were shocked to find their luggage was still left at Delhi.

The halt, which has caused delays and inconvenience to passengers in recent weeks, is partly the result of IndiGo using narrow-body jets such as Airbus A320 and A321 on longer routes. IndiGo’s strategy works when winds are calm, which allows the airline to operate less expensive aircraft with fewer cabin-crew members, thus easily filling the plane and lowering the operating cost.

However, by pushing its narrow-body jets close to the limit of seven hours, IndiGo is leaving little room for error when stiff winds increase the amount of fuel that the planes’ twin engines burn.

“We are now stranded with family (old and kids) in a different country with no luggage,” tweeted a passenger, who travelled to Amsterdam.  

An airline spokesperson said they had already imposed certain payload restrictions and would be taking more. He added that there are two daily flights to Istanbul, as well as a code share with Turkish airlines that would enable them to accommodate passengers who were booked but made to be offloaded.

In addition, the airline is offering a voucher of Rs 5,000 to affected passengers that can be encashed for future travels.

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