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Airline cancels flights after 'cash for more fuel' allegations

Comtel Air has cancelled flights following allegations that its passengers were forced to pay for extra fuel or be stranded (see earlier story).

The airline, which launched cheap flights from Birmingham to Amritsar, via Vienna, last month, has cancelled four flights planned for the coming weekend.

In a statement, Birmingham Airport said: "Clearly, we are very concerned about this situation and understand the distress that this is causing those passengers directly involved and their loved ones.

"We stress that we are very disappointed that the operator is having these problems this week and we working hard to provide some clarity going forward."

It said Comtel Air is an Austrian registered airline and is therefore not within the jurisdiction of the UK'S Civil Aviation Authority.

Passengers due to travel with the airline are advised to contact the travel company they have booked the flights with for advice.

Those passengers overseas are being urged to ascertain whether their travel arrangements are protected by the ATOL scheme.

"We expect the airline to clarify the situation regarding its flight programme going forward within the next few days," said the Birmingham Airport statement.

The cancellations follow allegations that more than 180 passengers on a flight from India to Britain were forced to fork out more than £20,000 in cash to pay for fuel to allow the plane to complete the journey.

The passengers were reportedly stranded on the tarmac in Vienna during a refuelling stop after being told the airline had "ran out of cash to fund the last leg of the trip".

Passengers claimed the airline then threatened to remove their luggage from the plane if they did not pay up.

According to reports, after a six-hour standoff, Austrian police were called and the passengers were escorted to ATMs to withdraw cash.

BBC reports say Comtel majority shareholder Bhupinder Kandra blamed travel agents for the problems, saying money had not been passed on to the airline.

With permission from Travelmole
It appears to be a bit more complicated.......

the flights were operated using wet leased planes from the Spanish firm Mint and they seem to have pulled the plug on Comtel for non payment of their bills. Comtel would have been liable for providing the fuel in Vienna and it looks like the passengers got caught up in a row between the two companies - Comtel failed to provide, Mint not going anywhere other than Spain if they didn't.

This is worth bearing in mind because Mint also provide wet lease planes for some of Britains best known tour operators during the summer peak, let's hope they pay their bills on time! And if Mint couldn't afford to risk the price of one load of fuel it raises questions about how stable they are, there could be more chaos ahead.
Travel company ceases trading

Essex-based travel company Astonbury Ltd, trading as Skyjet, has ceased trading.

The company sold flights to Amritsar in India from Birmingham on the Austrian airline Comtel.

Comtel is under investigation after passengers alleged it had left them stranded and forced them to pay for additional fuel (see earlier story).

Skyjet was a licensed ATOL-holder so the CAA has stepped in to protect passengers.

The CAA estimates that there are around 200 people currently overseas and they will be able to return to the UK thanks to the CAA's ATOL protection scheme.

Passengers who booked ATOL-protected trips with Skyjet but have not travelled will be able to claim a full refund from the CAA.

All forward bookings are now cancelled and customers are advised not to go to the airport.

Customers, who contracted ATOL-protected trips with Skyjet will be financially protected under ATOL 6789 and should make a claim for a refund through the CAA.

Customers are advised to speak to their travel agent about making a claim under the ATOL Scheme.

With permission from Travelmole

Further information for Skyjet customers is available from the CAA:

David :wave
the plot thickens.....

Astonbury/Skyjet were UK General Sales Agents for Air Slovakia until that airline suddenly had their licence pulled early last year. Air Slovakia had developed a number of niche routes, such as Birmingham to Amritsar ! Is it my normally suspicious nature or is there something worth digging for here?
Airline in 'cash for fuel' scandal files for bankruptcy

The Birmingham-India charter airline that was accused of forcing passengers to chip in to buy fuel to complete their flight has filed for bankruptcy.

Austrian-registered Comtel-Air, majority-owned by Indian businessman Bhupinder Kandra, has debts of 1.2 million euros, according to the Austrian creditors' protection agency KSV.

More than 180 passengers on a chartered Comtel Air flight from Amritsar in north India to Birmingham were stranded on the tarmac in Vienna during a refuelling stop after being told the airline "ran out of cash to fund the last leg of the trip".

Passengers said the airline threatened to remove their luggage from the plane if they did not find the £20,000 needed to complete the flight.

The passengers, who refused to get off the plane in a six-hour stand-off, were finally escorted by police to ATMs to draw money.

According to a report in The Age, the airline denied passengers were asked to pay for the fuel, but in a video filmed by a passenger on board they can be heard getting told "if you want to get to Birmingham, you have to pay".

The airline blamed travel agents for the situation, saying it had not passed on money.

A few days after the reports emerged, Essex-based travel company Astonbury Ltd, trading as Skyjet, ceased trading.

The company sold flights to Amritsar in India from Birmingham on Comtel.

With permission from Travelmole

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