AC46 circled Mumbai skies between 16:10Z to 17:38Z, reached HYD at 18:40Z
The crew took 1 hr to decide on the first alternate. That maxed out on capacity
The crew contacted their ops center and decided on Hyderabad. Left for HYD 17:38Z
Whatever ATC was offering and crew rejected, it was never in danger.
Question is when was the first MAYDAY call made.
This isn't the point. When aircraft are in holding, ATC generally doesn't have much information to work from, and pilots tend to have even less. Sometimes aircraft are put into holding for a half turn under the assumption they could be there for 30+ minutes, other times they're put into holding for an hour when they were under the assumption they'd only make one or two turns. Controllers are often at the whim of the next facility, and it's rare for the controller putting aircraft into holding to have complete information to work with.
Just because they "took 1 HR to decide" doesn't mean the crew wasn't working on a game plan the entire time — I'm not a pilot, but I know that the vast majority of professional airmen are constantly thinking of alternatives. That's part of how all aviation professionals are trained from day one, pilots and ATC alike, to always have one, two, or even three backup plans.
The point is that when they reached the point of critical fuel, and that information was relayed to ATC, that should have changed the equation entirely. Now it's no longer a matter of how much longer the aircraft can continue to hold, it's a matter of which is the closest, most appropriate facility to handle them, and how they can best be expedited to that end. If they declared an emergency for low fuel, holding is no longer an option. ATC should have been coordinating with any nearby facilities to advise them of an inbound emergency, and it's their job to make room. Ignoring a declaration of emergency is completely unacceptable regardless of when
it was declared, and from that point forward, any requests from the pilot should have been accommodated to the fullest extent possible. End of story.
Sounds like it took 3 more MAYDAY calls to finally convince ATC that they weren’t kidding and weren’t going to enter holding. Finally ATC relented and cleared them for the approach.
This is 100% unacceptable. It is not ATC's job to determine what a genuine emergency is, that's for investigators to determine when no one's life is in danger. Even if ATC believes they're completely full of crap, the controller is legally compelled to provide them with priority handling. What if the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed because the pilot wasn't insistent enough? ATC just bought the blame because they wanted to see if it was really an emergency. This just isn't how things work from a professionalism standpoint, and people will die if they don't change that attitude.
Your comments about the crew desiring an infinity pool are ridiculous. Having been doing this for 25 years, I can tell you that there are times when circumstances put you into a very tight box despite your best intententions. That’s when the MAYDAY call is supposed to be your lifeline. Not met with a clearance to hold. Thankfully, the crew was not bullied by ATC into actually holding.
ATC and pilots aren't always the best of friends. Many choice words are said on both sides when that mic unkeys. However, when a pilot runs into trouble, everything changes. ATC can't set the aircraft down for the pilot, but we can do everything in our power to make the situation easier, and keep the pilot informed. I have never heard of a controller acting to purposely delay an aircraft in distress if it is against the pilot's desires, and if that's what happened here (which that appears to be the case), then this seriously needs to serve as a lesson to that controller and to the ATC agency so that this never happens again. You are 100% correct that declaring an emergency is a pilot's lifeline, and controllers are duty bound to use every procedure and method possible to bring the situation to a safe conclusion. Most ATC manuals the world over are purposely vague on the handling of emergencies to provide the controller flexibility to use their best judgment, but I've never a manual that gives flexibility to not honor the mayday call until the pilot seems like they really, really mean it.
When an aircraft is low on fuel or in distress of any sort it is NOT the job of the ATC tell them what to do unless it is clearing them for an approach. They haven’t logged hours in those planes, they haven’t been trained to fly them, and they often don’t understand what’s going on in the cockpit. Most importanty though, they don’t know exactly how bad the situation is as they are not there looking at how little fuel the plane has.
I also can’t wrap my head around what they mean by being over capacity. If the plane is running out of fuel and has declared an emergency, surely they don’t have to be parked at a gate as soon as they land. Just getting the opportunity to safely land the plane in the situation and then having to park in the corner somewhere for a while is better far than running out of fuel in the air.
If there's a safe runway with ARFF, that's all that's needed in an emergency. Over capacity is an unacceptable reason to deny the pilot use of that airport. They don't need a gate, they just need tarmac. It's ATC's job to give them that tarmac, and the airport and airline can figure out the rest from there. In a fuel emergency, that airplane can sit on the ramp for six hours after they land for all ATC cares — the point is that they're no longer in distress.