After numerous complaints from Air India fliers, the civil aviation ministry on Tuesday rapped the airline management for its poor service.
Over the past few days, hundreds of AI passengers have been stuck at various airports across the country owing to marathon flight delays and last-minute flight cancellation.
“The ministry has received several complaints from Air India passengers. These include lack of prior information on flight delays or cancellations, unhelpful attitude of the airline staff, no provision of refreshments to stranded fliers, no hotel stay and failure to provide alternative travel plans,” read a note sent by the ministry to the airline. HT has a copy of the email.
On Monday, AI flights to Patna, Bhopal and Ranchi from Delhi were delayed by up to five hours. On Sunday, flights on the busy metro routes such Mumbai-Delhi saw similar delays. While Mumbai airport officials said that Tuesday witnessed similar delays across the network, actual numbers were not available till the time of going to press.
According to ministry officials, a three-fold management problem has crippled the airline’s domestic operations.
The primary goof-up was gross overbooking by the airline. While about 15% overbooking is accepted globally, AI officials overbooked several domestic sector flights by up to 35%. “We have asked the airline's commercial department to reduce overbooking immediately,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official, requesting anonymity.
Officials also said that the “deliberate callousness” of the airline’s engineers had grounded at least eight Airbus A320 planes, AI's primary domestic aircraft fleet, adding to the woes.
As a result, jumbo aircraft such as the Boeing 777-300ER normally used on the Jeddah and London route was deployed on busy domestic routes such as Mumbai-Delhi to accommodate travellers. “We have issued a stern warning to the airline’s engineering unit to pull up their socks. If the situation continues, sackings could happen,” said a senior ministry official, requesting anonymity.
Even as ministry officials played it down, airline sources added that a massive flight crew shortage could become the third nail in the Air India's coffin.
According to airline sources, the national carrier faces a shortage of 120 co-pilots and 70 commanders for domestic operations.
But aviation ministry sources said that Rohit Nandan, the airline's chairman and managing director, had denied any crew shortage when asked to spell out the national carrier's challenges during a review meeting two weeks ago.
Nandan directed HT's query sent through a text message to the airline's corporate communication department. But the spokesperson did not respond till the time of going to press.
Air India has been facing marathon flight delays and last minute-flight cancellation in the past four days. Some of the reasons are:
1. Massive overbooking: The airline has been overbooking its flights on many domestic routes up to 35 %. Globally 15% overbooking is permitted in anticipation of last minute cancellations or passengers who miss their flights.
2. Grounded planes: At least eight Airbus A320 planes which comprise Air India’s primary domestic operations fleet have been grounded owing to poor maintenance.
3. Pilot shortage: The airline is facing a shortage of around 190 pilots owing to massive exodus over the past few months. According to airline sources, the national carrier faces a shortage of 120 co-pilots and 70 commanders for domestic operations. A shortage of 25 examiner rank pilots and 20 instructors has put its training process in a limbo, sources added.