Around 250 passengers bound for Newark were held up at the Mumbai airport on Monday, after airline staff found that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s principal secretary, who was part of a delegation to the US, could not produce a valid visa.
Air India’s flight AI 191 eventually left about an hour behind schedule after Pravin Pardeshi produced an old passport booklet with a valid visa, officials said. According to airline sources, Pardeshi had a valid multiple entry US visa, but it was not on his new passport booklet that he was carrying.
Airline sources said the official asked a relative to fetch the old passport booklet as airline staff waited. Usually in such circumstances, a traveller is denied boarding and the flight departs on time. Fadnavis left on a nine-day tour of the US on Monday.
Air India, however, maintained that the flight was delayed owing to technical reasons. A statement issued by the airline said: “The flight, AI 191 of 29th June 2015, was delayed by a total of 57 minutes. The delay was partly due to technical/operational reasons, and also the ATC.”
But an internal email issued by the AI commercial department, which was accessed by HT, indicated otherwise. The email, a delay report of AI 191, read: “Boarding commenced at 1:15 hours and everyone was on board except Mr. Pravin Pardeshi.” The email added that at the time of check-in, Pardeshi realised that his new passport booklet did not have the US visa and he had forgotten the old passport booklet at home.
The email also stated that when the CM was appraised about the situation, he refused to travel without his delegation. Although the airline had begun the process of offloading the baggage of the eight delegates, it was stopped after Pardeshi’s relative delivered his old passport booklet at the boarding gate.
At 9pm, chief minister Fadnavis denied in a tweet that he was responsible for the delay. “The allegations that I forced to delay the New York flight are false and misleading. I totally deny it.”
The allegation that I forced to delay the flight to New York is false & misleading. I totally deny it.— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) June 30, 2015
PS Meena, additional chief secretary, general administration department, said, “I am not aware of the details of the flight delay, but to my knowledge nobody from the government requested authorities from the Air India for rescheduling of the flight.”
The national carrier has often held up passengers for politicians and senior bureaucrats. In February, an AI flight bound for Hyderabad was delayed for close to an hour because Congress Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Chowdhury, one of the passengers, did not reach the airport on time.
The incident comes months after the airline began penalising its pilots, cabin crew, aircraft maintenance engineers and even private vendors, such as catering companies, for flight delays caused by them. “It is a clear case of double standards. The civil aviation ministry should intervene into the matter,” said another AI staffer requesting anonymity.