The friendly skies

While Americans stagger their Christmas (or is that now "winter holiday"?) observances over as much as two weeks, Thanksgiving compresses all the madness into four or five days. And holiday travel was rarely a joy, even before today's combination of enhanced security protocols (turn your head and cough, please) and recession-driven airline austerity. ("Dinner? But you've already had the cheese crackers and the pretzels, sir.")

Still, American travelers who think they've got it bad might want to consider the plight of the passengers on a Comtel Air charter flight from India to Birmingham, England, which touched down to refuel in Vienna on Nov. 15.

Bhupinder Kandra, the airline's majority shareholder, explains travel agents had taken the passengers' money before the plane departed, but had not passed it on to the airline.

So the crew asked passengers to kick in a little more so the pilot could "fill 'er up." Specifically, $31,000.

"We need some money to pay the fuel, pay the airport, pay everything we need," a crew member is seen explaining to passengers on a home video.

"We all got together, took our money out of purses," but it wasn't nearly enough, explains Reena Rindi, who was aboard with her daughter.

So, passengers without enough cash were instructed to deplane, one at a time, in order to get money from ATMs in the terminal, The Associated Press reports. They were asked for about $205 each, though children under 2 were allowed to continue without paying.

In all, the flight was delayed about six hours while the passengers scraped up enough cash to get them flying again, and they did reach Birmingham. India Today reports more than 600 people on four flights are thought to have been affected.

Mr. Kandra insists his airline is still solvent. "We have not run out of money," he said the next day. "We have enough."

Until it's time for an oil change, anyway.