Arrests and chaos at Gatwick over seized Air Zim plane

There was chaos at Gatwick airport beginning Monday night, after Air Zimbabwe cancelled a flight from London at the very last minute, saying the plane had been seized for lack of payment of a $1.2 million debt.

Frustrated passengers who spent Monday night in hotels around the airport demanded answers from Air Zim officials on Tuesday, but were told no money had been found to settle the debt. Frustration turned to anger and several travelers were reportedly detained by riot police.

Passengers travelling to Zimbabwe for the holidays said they had been allowed to check in on Monday by officials, who already knew there would be no flight to Zimbabwe. The overbooked flight had at least 40 people on standby.

SW Radio Africa presenter Ezra Sibanda was one of the unlucky ones stuck in London. He said his luggage was checked in, then brought back out and passengers were told to find their bags on trolleys. He said the lack of professionalism by Air Zim was appalling.

“What makes it worse is that they checked people in knowing very well that the plane was seized. The reason is they don’t want to refund people money. They don’t have the money,” Sibanda fumed.

Police were called in to intervene as furious travelers with tired and hungry children demanded their money back from officials, who said they only represented Air Zim. The operations manager David Mwenga reportedly ran from Zimbabweans who recognized him.

By Tuesday evening all passengers had been told to contact the airline on Wednesday for an update. They had been given only £10 for food for the two days and those from outside London had no place to go, as they were not given any vouchers for hotels for Tuesday night.

Sibanda said: “I feel sorry for these four ladies I spoke to who are tourists from Australia. They booked their holiday, paid their money and were supposed to be picked up at Harare airport Tuesday morning to take them to Kariba and Vic Falls.”

Sources working for the airline in London told SW Radio Africa that once a customer checks in, Harare has control of the account and no-one in London can facilitate a refund.

Air Zim officials were reportedly scrambling to find enough funds to get their plane released by American General Supplies, an American firm that supplies aircraft spares. The company got a court order after failing to collect the $1.2 million owed by Zimbabwe’s national airline.

This is not the first time a Zim plane has been seized over money owed. The airline has been riddled with corruption and mismanagement for decades and the Mugabe regime has not invested in maintenance and spares.

Robert Mugabe also uses Air Zim as his own private airline, commandeering planes at will to travel on personal business. The airline is reported to be in debt to the tune of over $40 million. – SW Radio Africa News

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