Don’t sell more business class tickets than serviceable seats: DGCA guides AI

NEW DELHI: Purchasing a business class ticket with Air India meant traveling in economy for many passengers thanks to the airline’s legacy fleet with poorly maintained cabins. Following protests by a London-bound passenger in Amritsar last month over the issue, the Directorate-General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) conducted an investigation and found that such complaints were correct. The regulator has written to Airline Accountable Manager Nipun Aggarwal to sync the tickets sold in premium classes to the number of usable seats in those cabins and avoid involuntary demotions to the economy.
“In the recent past, a number of Business class passengers were downgraded to economy due to useless seats. The DGCA took note of this and carried out an investigation. We have warned AI against booking more business class passengers than serviceable seats are available. Any breach will result in enforcement action,” DGCA sources said. The regulator is said to have told Aggarwal in its order that seats that don’t meet design specifications are not just about comfort, there is also a safety issue.
An AI spokesman said the airline has “always adhered to the instructions and guidelines of the regulator DGCA and will continue to ensure compliance”.
In recent years as a cash-strapped state airline, the Maharajah has had no means to maintain and/or modernize the passenger cabins on its planes. As a result without function inflight entertainment screens, non-reclining seats, broken armrests and seat shell backrests are common. The new owner, the Tata Group, is about to place a major order. However, the replacement of the old fleet will take a few years, and until then such problems may arise again and again.

Business class cabin of an Air India Boeing 777

Business class cabin of an Air India Boeing 777
The regulator last month banned Indian airlines from selling unusable seats to passengers and warned of strict action if they continue to do so. The regulatory move, along with an investigation into airline overbooking, came after poor weather in Delhi at the end of May meant some passengers bound for London were unable to fly to IGI Airport to catch a connecting flight to Heathrow. They were accommodated on a direct flight from Amritsar to London.
“That AI Dreamliner has 18 business class seats, four of which were unusable. Accordingly, AI had sold 14 seats for this flight. Another seat or two became unusable and then all 14 were unable to travel on business,” DGCA sources say.
A senior resident in Mumbai who recently traveled AI Business Class on the non-stop Mumbai-Newark-Mumbai flights said: “I paid extra for a window seat on both flights. When I boarded the Mumbai-Newark flight, I was told that the seat I paid extra for was not functional and I was moved to the middle row.” This passenger did not want to be identified.

Sybil Alvarez

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