Many air passengers complained of being offloaded from international flights in the last two days despite having confirmed tickets. An Air India and a Jet Airways passenger said many, including them, reported on time, but was denied boarding passes because flights were overbooked.
Air India passenger Shama Shirodkar, booked for the Mumbai-Paris-Newark flight (AI 191) on Monday morning, had to return home when the airline's check-in staff refused to honour her confirmed ticket. "I came from the US on December 24 and had a confirmed return ticket for January 8. When I approached the counter only three passengers were ahead of me. I was told the flight was full and I could catch one next morning. About 50 passengers behind me were also offloaded."
The advertising professional, who works with Global Advertising Strategies in Manhattan, said she had to submit an important presentation to clients.
Air India spokesman S Venkat said: "Overbooking is common among all airlines during peak season. We overbook in excess of 5 per cent of the actual load, keeping absenteeism in mind. Since there is no major cancellation penalty in international flights, many reschedule their travel plans and so airlines resort to overbooking. But we regret the inconvenience caused to this passenger."
He said Air India tried to accommodate passengers in other flights or in other carriers. "We even book such passengers in hotels or give them coupons as compensation," said Venkat.
Another Jet Airways passenger Navin Sharma, who was refused boarding his flight to Singapore on Sunday despite having a confirmed ticket, sent out e-mails to newspaper offices and Jet Airways officials seeking clarification on the airline's confirmation policy. In his e-mail Navin said: "When I checked in for the Jet Airways 11.30 pm Singapore flight, I was told it was full."
He said Jet officials had no answers to his questions. "They kept on saying overbooking was a normal practice," he said, adding that after his pleas the officials did try to accommodate him in other airlines but since all flights were full, he was asked to take the next day's flight.
"It was a straight 24-hour delay. When I asked them to refund the ticket, they refused saying it was not in their policy. Finally, with no choice, I had to accept the ticket for the next flight," Sharma said, adding that he had urgent work for a client in Singapore and would have to bear losses for no fault of his.
Despite several attempts Jet Airways spokesman was not available for comment. HT spoke to Jet Airways Executive Director SK Datta, but he said, "I am sorry, I am busy in a meeting and can't speak." Despite repeated attempts later, he could not be contacted.
Air Passengers Association of India president Sudhakar Reddy said: "Denying boarding passes to confirmed ticket holders due to overbooking is highly unethical. They can't do it to passengers. Legally it can be challenged. If some passengers collectively approach us, we will engage a lawyer in Mumbai to take up the matter. In case of overbooking, airlines can persuade a passenger to take an alternate flight or ask other passengers without urgency to defer their trip with adequate compensation so as to allow the ones in urgency to be accommodated."