A thick blanket of fog enveloped Delhi and its suburbs on the New Year Day, with visibility dropping to near-zero, delaying trains, disrupting flight operations and slowing down traffic on the city roads.
Domestic and international operations at the city airport remained disrupted for several hours due to low visibility, and even when the skies finally cleared, the backlog of stranded flights led to further delays for hundreds of flights, affecting thousands of passengers.
At least 15 trains were cancelled while 56 trains were running late and 20 were rescheduled due to fog in several parts of northern India. Traffic on the national capital’s roads also slowed down due to near-zero visibility early in the morning despite low traffic volume on the first day of the year.
With the mercury at 5.7 degrees Celsius, dropping a notch below the season’s average, on Sunday night, hundreds of passengers braved the morning chill as they remained stranded for hours at the airport and Delhi’s railway stations.
“Delhi woke up to the worst fog of the season. Most of the northwestern plains are in its grip. Day temperature will fall significantly,” Mahesh Palawat, vice president at Skymet Weather, said adding that the minimum temperature of 5.7 degrees was “lowest minimum of the season”.
All terminals at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport were packed with passengers who had driven through fog-enveloped roads to catch their morning flights.
Visibility, which was 1,500 metres at 3.30am, dropped rapidly to zero at 5.30am.
Flight operations at the airport were halted for about five hours. However, the visibility improved as the late morning sun broke through the cloud cover, allowing some flights to take off around after 10am. A visibility of at least 125 metres is needed for a flight to take off.
But even as visibility improved, the long backlog due to suspension of operations led to further delays, with an estimated 300-plus flights delayed.
Arrivals at the airport were also badly hit as only some aircraft were allowed to land. Flights can land in visibility below 50 metres if pilots are trained in CAT IIIB -- which is Instrument Landing System Category Three. Even those flights which landed found no space to park and allow passengers to deboard at the arrival terminals.
“It was very irritating and suffocating as we were stranded in the plane for around an hour-and-a-half even after it had landed at the Terminal-3 airport,” said Smriti Mantri, a fashion design student who arrived at the airport around 9.30am from Kolkata along with her family.
“Although the flight landed on time, the plane wasn’t allotted any space to park. It was announced that since none of the flights had taken off from Delhi since morning, there was no space,” she said.
Smriti’s brother Keshav added that passengers were not even allowed to use the washrooms inside the plane since it had already landed. It was only after some passengers began shouting that the cabin crew allowed them to use the washrooms, he added.
The Northern Railways said over 50 trains coming to Delhi were running late and 20 were rescheduled. At least 15 had to be cancelled.
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