Why a SpiceJet crew spent their layover on a plane
Last week, Indian low cost carrier SpiceJet operated a charter flight to Zagreb, Croatia, using a Boeing 737-800 with the registration code VT-SGX:
- On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, SpiceJet flew from Delhi to Tbilisi to Zagreb (the stop in Tbilisi was to refuel)
- On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, SpiceJet flew from Zagreb to Delhi (there was no stop needed thanks to tailwinds and how light the aircraft was — more on that below)
The crew (including four pilots plus flight attendants) arrived in Zagreb expecting to have a layover in a hotel. However, upon arrival authorities asked crew members for their negative coronavirus PCR tests, which they didn’t have, as the airline didn’t advise the crew that they needed to be tested. The crew was therefore denied entry to Croatia.
At this point SpiceJet was in a tricky situation:
- The crew wouldn’t be able to leave the plane
- At the same time, the crew had worked too many hours to fly back to Delhi, as they contractually needed to rest
- On top of that, resting on the plane doesn’t count as proper crew rest for the purposes of being “legal” to fly
After the airline consulted India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), a compromise was reached:
- The crew would have to spend the night on the plane to get mandatory rest
- When the flight returned to India the next day, three pilots would have to be in the cockpit at all times
- The flight back to India couldn’t carry any passengers for safety reasons
- The entire crew had to agree that they were happy with this arrangement
Ground personnel allegedly provided the crew with bedding, food, and water, so that they could at least get some rest. The flight returned empty the following day without issues.
How was this mistake made?
Admittedly it can be difficult to keep track of travel restrictions nowadays, though you’d think an airline would have this under control. So how did the company make the mistake of not testing the crew prior to travel, even though a test was apparently required?
Well, according to a SpiceJet spokesperson:
Prior to departure from India, e-mail confirmation was received from Croatian authorities that RT-PCR test is not required for crew. On arrival in Zagreb, crew was told that orders have changed. Due to sudden and massive increase in Covid cases in India, they have now been instructed that RT-PCR is required. That came as a surprise.
Does anyone know if the crew testing requirements had actually changed inflight for an Indian crew (in which case it seems like Croatia was acting unreasonably), or is the company just trying to find a scapegoat for this embarrassing mistake?
One would think that if requirements had actually changed while inflight there would either be some grace period, or otherwise the airport authority would rapid test the crew on arrival.
It’s said that the DGCA has “admonished” SpiceJet for this incident.
The logistics of travel are complicated nowadays, and that applies whether you’re a passenger or crew. SpiceJet didn’t test a crew working a trip to Croatia, only to find out on arrival that this was needed.
This left the crew in a tricky situation — they weren’t allowed to leave the plane, but also weren’t allowed to fly back to India due to lack of rest. So the crew spent the night on the plane, before eventually flying back the next day without passengers.
Kudos to the crew for seemingly rolling with the punches, not that they had much of an option.