Air-India has yet another angry customer - the civil aviation minister. Praful Patel was scheduled to fly the national carrier from London to Mumbai on Thursday night, when a delayed take-off -- reportedly caused by the late arrival of the flight's crew -- made him change his plans. He flew back on Jet Airways instead.
On a private visit to London, Patel was to fly back to Mumbai on Air-India. On arrival at Heathrow Airport, the minister discovered that the crew had also only just arrived.
The crew, said sources, was late by well over an hour, resulting in a 30 minute delay in take-off. Patel switched to Jet Airways, which also had a scheduled departure at the same time, 9.30 pm, and landed in Mumbai on schedule.
"I have enough choices," Patel told HT on Saturday. "But what about the average traveller who relies on Air-India and cannot switch flights at a moment's notice?" Patel added that his ministry would be launching an inquiry into this 'negligence'. "We will take action against those who are responsible," he promised.
Air-India sources in London said the delay in take off was caused by the increased number of security barriers at Heathrow which are manned by the British Airport Authority. The crew has fixed duty hours and cannot come in too early, they said.
Patel is not buying the argument. "Other airlines are functioning on time in spite of the security checks. If the check takes more time, airline employees will just have to start reporting to work earlier than usual. They cannot keep passengers waiting because they do not want to report to work earlier," he said.
Ironically, the minister had only days ago - during the launch of Indian Airlines' new Airbus aircraft - warned both Air-India and Indian Airlines employees. "They have to realise their responsibility towards the country, and the people they fly," he had said then.
"Every person in the organisation will have to understand that these are changing times." Message received, loud and clear.