The “technical snag” that forced the Air India Newark-Mumbai flight to divert to Istanbul on Monday was a glitch in the flushing mechanism of every toilet in the flight while the plane was still more than five hours away from Mumbai.
AI-144, which took off at 0425 pm US time and was supposed to arrive at Mumbai at 1640 pm on Monday, eventually landed at 2200. While Air India had tweeted earlier in the day, “EWR-BOM diverted to #Istanbul due technical reasons. The #flight departed from #Istanbul at 1005 hrs local time,” they did not quite explain much about the glitch, which, it turns out, was unusable toilets.
“We were some five or six hours away from Mumbai when the pilot announced on the microphone that since none of the toilets in the plane were functioning, they had decided to divert the flight to Istanbul and seek repair assistance there,” said Vishal Nanda, an IT Manager with L&T Infotech in the US, who was on the way to his Pune home. “My seat was just one row away from the toilet. When I woke up after a nap, I saw a long queue of about 20-25 passengers outside the washroom. On inquiring, I was told that this was one of the two toilets still functioning. But in ten minutes, the staff locked up those two as well. Apparently, the flush was not working in each of the toilets, including the ones in the business class and first class,” added Nanda.
Shobha Nimbalkar, Air India’s Corporate Communication manager, confirmed that the flight had to be diverted due to unusable toilets. “Yes, it happened. In aviation, we call it a technical snag. But in any case, the flight reached Mumbai the same day. Such things don’t happen frequently,” said Nimbalkar.
About half an hour after the pilot’s announcement, the plane landed at Istanbul where a team boarded the plane and rectified the snag in about half-an-hour. “But then the plane had to refuel and the staff said there were some diplomatic formalities. We were at Istanbul for about five hours. During that time, no food or drink was served to us,” said Nanda, adding that some passengers were also worried because of the recent IS attacks at an Istanbul airport.
The flight, with about 300 passengers on board, eventually landed in Mumbai at 2200 IST, five hours after the scheduled time of arrival.