Comtel Air leaves Punjab-UK fliers in the lurch

As the debate on allowing foreign investment in Indian airlines continues, there is an eye-opener - hundreds of passengers hoping to travel from Amritsar to Birmingham have been left stranded in India by cash-strapped Comtel Air, an Austria-registered airline.

Around 180 people flying from Amritsar to Birmingham with Comtel Air were stranded at a layover in Vienna on Tuesday, as the airline asked them to raise £20,000 between them to cover fuel costs for the final leg of the flight.

The story was repeated yesterday, when a plane bound for Birmingham was due to carry 220 passengers back to the UK were told by the airline that the flight would not take off from Amritsar airport until it received around £27,000 - or £124 from each passenger - to cover the bill for unpaid fees.

The passengers, whose flight has been delayed since the weekend, have been ordered off the plane and forced to make alternative travel arrangements, say reports.

Comtel Air has been accused of "holding passengers to ransom" after leaving the planes grounded on the runway because of a dispute with airport authorities.

Four UK-bound flights from India have been cancelled - two last weekend and two this weekend.