Cash-strapped Air India has expressed inability to upgrade seats of MPs to business class or carry their extra baggage for free, especially in flights which have all upper class seats booked by paid passengers.
Noting that it gets a large number of requests from MPs regarding upgrades, the national carrier has made it known to Parliament that such requests cannot be met in most cases if the business class seats are booked by revenue passengers or the aircraft is in an all-economy configuration.
The domestic fleet of Air India primarily consists of narrow-body planes like Airbus A-319s which have eight business class seats and A-320s and A-321s which have 20 such seats. Several of these aircraft are now being reconfigured to have only economy seats to compete with no-frill carriers.
The airline has also decided not to part with sensitive information relating to its commercial and operational decisions in response to questions asked in Parliament to maintain business confidentiality, official sources said.
They said the MPs also realise that parting with such information in public only helps competition, adversely affecting Air India’s interests.
In a letter to Lok Sabha Secretary General P K Grover, Air India CMD Rohit Nandan said the airline has been receiving several requests even “for change of aircraft to accommodate Hon’ble Parliament Committee in Business Class during Parliamentary Committee visits to various parts of the country and also to relax baggage limitations”.
“Tickets are booked by passengers well in advance and, hence, there might be no Business Class seats available at the time of the tours of the Parliamentary Committees. This leads to a piquant situation and the airline has to (express) regret to the Hon’ble MPs regarding availability of
Business Class seats,” he said in the letter a fortnight ago.
Elaborating on Air India’s decision, Nandan said in order to maximise revenue, the airline has decided to convert a number of its narrow body aircraft which are operating in the domestic circuit to all-economy configuration.
“Therefore, it is not possible to accommodate Hon’ble MPs in Business Class in those sectors which are served by all- economy configuration aircraft… With regard to request for allowing extra baggage, it is reiterated that as per existing policy no extra baggage is allowed,” he said categorically.
On several occasions, all airlines, including Air India, have faced flak from parliamentarians, with the Privileges Committee of Parliament late last year saying that airports and airlines were not adhering to the guidelines on laid-down protocol norms and courtesy to be extended to the MPs.