The travel nightmare that's hit a nerve in India

Passengers sleeping on the ground at Charles de Gaulle Airport in December 2009 when snow caused cancellations and delays
Image caption Sleeping on the floor just isn't fun... Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport when snow caused chaos in 2009

There's nothing like a bit of travel chaos to get people talking. Add a dash of perceived discrimination into the mix, and it's the perfect recipe for a social media storm.

That's where Air France finds itself right now. In the eye of a storm. More than two million people have viewed a letter written by a disgruntled passenger from India. Thousands have shared it on Twitter. Tens of thousands on Facebook.

It's written by 24-year-old Jay Shah, who was travelling home from New York to Mumbai via Paris last month. He calls his letter One Night in Paris. So far, so romantic-sounding, but the story he tells is far from it. He recounts in great detail why he feels he and other passengers were poorly treated (the letter runs to nine pages).

In summary, his flight was cancelled. Some passengers - those with the relevant visas - were put up in a hotel overnight. But the rest, most of whom were Indian, were left in the terminal until their replacement flight more than 24 hours later. Some slept on the floor. There weren't enough blankets. He claims the staff were cold-hearted in their response when one man asked to be rescheduled to make it back for his father's funeral.

"I don't think they would have treated people like this if they weren't Indian," Shah told the BBC. It's this perceived racism that seems to have struck a chord with many of the thousands of Indians who have shared and commented on his story.

"As long as Indians were impoverished, they didn't care about racism," says Indian columnist and international affairs specialist Pushpesh Pant, adding that as India has become richer, they expect to be treated with more respect.

Air France strongly rejects the allegation that Shah or any other passengers were unfairly treated because of their nationality, and disputes many of the claims made in his letter. They also stated that it was local transport police and not their company who decided whether passengers could leave the airport. But they told the BBC they could have provided better sleeping arrangements - including a lounge, some fold-out beds, and more blankets.

Reporting by Cordelia Hebblethwaite

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