Passengers held on plane are forced to pay fuel bill

Hundreds of British airline passengers hoping to travel back to Birmingham were left stranded when cabin crew of their Boeing 757 announced during a refuelling stop that the Austrian carrier ‘Comtel Air’ had run out of money.


Passengers were left stranded at a layover in Vienna on Tuesday, and were told the only way the flight would continue was if passengers handed over 23,400 euros (£20,005). If not, travellers and their luggage would be removed from the aircraft.


A six-hour standoff ended when police were notified and escorted passengers to cashpoint machines.


However cash points eventually ran out of money, and many travellers on board had no funds to pay the ransom.


Passengers eventually raised the money through a series of promises and IOUs, and they fear 600 travellers are stranded in India on four planned flights. Details however were sketchy, as companies involved weren’t returning calls.


Comtel Air specialises in executive aviation and only last month started the commercial route from the UK to Amritsar, using the leased 757.


Tarlochan Singh, 57 from Wolverhampton had been in India for three weeks, he said: “They wanted all the money in cash. Everyone was furious, that is why we had the sit-in”.


He added: “We spent more than six hours in Vienna. Nobody has told us anything”.


Many had purchased their tickets through Smethwick travel agents Takhar Travel. Last night West Midlands Police stood guard outside its office last night in case angry customers arrived demanding explanations.


A spokesman for Birmingham Airport said: ‘Comtel Air has been contracted by a number of UK travel companies to facilitate flights to Amritsar via Vienna”.


“Clearly, we are very concerned and understand the distress that this is causing. We are urgently investigating the matter to get some clarity going forward”.


“Anyone due to travel with the airline is advised to contact the travel company they have booked flights with”.


By Charlotte Greenhalgh