Letter: To hell (but not back) on British Airways

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Sir: I read with interest your report today on the present troubles in Bombay (also referred to in your cricket report). I have just escaped from that hellhole after the most terrifying 40 hours of my life, and I can assure you that conditions are every bit as bad and dangerous as described.

I was invited to lecture at a scientific conference in Bangalore, but two circumstances conspired to trap me in a highly dangerous situation. First, my onward flight from Bombay was cancelled due to aircrew strikes; that left me stranded in Bombay. British Airways would not put me on to the return flight to London - the best they could offer was a flight three days later. Second, the city was racked by shooting, arson and widespread murder. I managed to find a hotel room, from where the entire night sky was illuminated by flames reaching hundreds of feet as the shanty towns burned, and there was the sound of explosions.

The next day, my travel agent in Dundee managed to get me a seat on an Air France flight to Paris. That left the problem of returning to the airport. There were virtually no taxis, as some had come under fire. However, a few unofficial cars were prepared to risk the journey for a price. The transit through the city under martial law was indescribable. The technique was to drive in the centre of the road at 80mph; any obstacles (ie, people) were warned by hooting, but there was no question of slowing down. Fortunately, we made it. I bought a new ticket and flew out of Bombay 10 hours later.

When I arrived in India, the riots had been continuing for several days, yet I was given no prior warning. Worse, British Airways made no effort to get me out of the potentially lethal situation. As Barry Manners' letter of today notes, BA's record of landing (literally) people into trouble spots is not good. I shall be writing to Lord King forthwith.

Yours faithfully,


Biochemistry Department

The University


13 January