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Charter jet passengers hit up for cash mid-flight

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 18, 2011 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
Indian passengers arrive from Austria at the Rajasansai International Airport on a Comtel Air flight in Amritsar on October 2.
Indian passengers arrive from Austria at the Rajasansai International Airport on a Comtel Air flight in Amritsar on October 2.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Passengers were asked to cough up about $200 each during a layover
  • One calls the situation "a complete, utter sham"
  • The charter company and the jet's owner blame each other

London (CNN) -- Passengers aboard two chartered jetliners from India to Britain were hit up for about $200 each, in cash, to continue their trip this week in what one flier compared to a hostage situation.

The charter company, Austria-based Comtel Air, and the Spanish company that owns the planes pointed fingers at each other over the situation Thursday. But Lal Dadrah, a passenger on one of the flights who recorded the crew passing the hat, called the situation "a complete, utter sham."

Comtel Air passengers on a Tuesday flight to Birmingham, England, from the Indian city of Amritsar were hit up for 130 pounds -- about $200 each -- during a layover in Vienna. They were allowed off the aircraft to take the money from teller machines, a process that took about seven hours. There were varying accounts of what the money was to pay for, ranging from fuel to fees.

Lal Dadrah, a freelance photographer who captured the scene, called it "a complete, utter sham."

Delayed passengers stage plane sit-in for refund

"I could not believe what I was witnessing," Dadrah told British network ITN. "It was as if we'd been held hostage against our wills, with the 24,000 pounds we all eventually had to pay being the ransom."

Passengers aboard a second flight Thursday were also asked for money before takeoff from Amritsar, according to Madrid-based Mint Aviation, which owns the aircraft and provides the crew.

Richard Fluck, Comtel's CEO, told CNN that the dispute involves Comtel, Mint and a third firm, Astonbury Ltd., which sold the tickets under the name Skyjet. The company abruptly failed this week, with the British government urging about 200 passengers who booked Skyjet flights to make new arrangements to return home.

In Birmingham, airport officials said all Comtel flights to and from Amritsar have been canceled for the coming weekend, and the Civil Aviation Authority said it would help get stranded fliers back home.

Fluck said Astonbury had not paid either of the other two firms for the last two flights, so Mint told its crew to collect the money it was owed from passengers or refuse to continue.

But Mint CEO Alfonso Martinez said it was Comtel that refused to pay and owed money to Amritsar's airport authority as well. Martinez said Comtel ordered the flight crew to take up a collection in Vienna.

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