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HindustanTimes Mon,15 Sep 2014

Staff take Air India for a ride on free ticket scheme

Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 30, 2013
First Published: 20:51 IST(30/6/2013) | Last Updated: 02:19 IST(1/7/2013)

This happens only in Air India. Book a full fare ticket to New York, Singapore, Mumbai or any destination you fancy and get a second ticket for a companion for free.

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The deal is good enough as it is, but in Air India it came to mean other things. There, passengers (read Air India employees) travelled on the free ticket and then sent it to the airline to claim reimbursement for the fare they never paid.

These details have now emerged as the reason for civil aviation minister Ajit Singh grounding the companion free scheme (CFS) last month. A vigilance probe, the report of which has been accessed by Hindustan Times, reveals that the scheme was misused because CFS tickets can only be booked directly with Air India and not through travel agents.

A perusal of over 700 tickets issued by Air India in Delhi established that over fifty percent had ended up burning a hole in the Maharaja’s pocket. Instead of the airline receiving the full fare, its employees actually ended up earning after flying for free.

A preliminary scrutiny of CFS tickets issued in Delhi between October 2011 and April 2012 by the vigilance department also revealed that the stipulation of the companion being a spouse or child or parent was not followed.

Air India introduced the scheme as a promotional offer on most of the full fare tickets even in economy, as opposed to floating rate tickets, so that its seats didn’t go vacant. The scheme ended up being a bumper prize for the airline’s own employees who found novel ways of circumventing the rules.

An officer associated with the probe said: “We have now recommended that FIRs be registered against employees who misused the scheme and also the passengers who undertook the journeys be identified so that the money can be recovered from them.”

Delhi is not the only centre which has imaginative Air India employees. The vigilance probe is now being extended to other cities including Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chandigarh and anomalies are showing up at all these stations. “It was a good scheme but genuine passengers are now suffering because we have had to freeze the scheme due to misuse by our own colleagues,” a senior Air India official lamented.


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