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BA downgrades Indian pharma co chief Khorakiwala

When he had to change the aircraft at the Heathrow airport, the airline staff told him about the overbooked first class, reports Lalatendu Mishra.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2006 01:25 IST

A day after a 58-year-old woman passenger died on board a Mumbai bound British Airways (BA) flight, the airline finds itself at the centre of another controversy after a head of an Indian pharma company and well-known industrialist Habil Khorakiwala was down graded from first to business class by the airline despite him having a confirmed first class ticket.

Khorakiwala, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of India's top five Pharma company, Wockhardt Ltd, said that BA downgraded him on the London-Mumbai sector without giving him any prior notice. This he said was "very strange and not expected from the stature of a premier airline like BA," he told HT.

He had already travelled the first leg of the journey from Boston to London in the first class.

Commenting on this BA spokesperson from New Delhi Radhika Raykhy said, "We offer our sincerest apology that we were not able to provide a seat in First class. We can understand the frustration that this can cause."

She added, "we reassure that this happens on vary rare occasions and we are investigating the matter. We will revert to our passenger at the very earliest."

Khorakiwala, who arrived in Mumbai on Sunday early morning by the BA-139 flight told this correspondent, "I should not say I was humiliated but the downgrading certainly created a lot of inconvenience. Never before have I heard that any confirmed first class passenger was downgraded by any airline," he said adding, "I have been a Gold Card holder with BA and it has been my preferred airline for the past 15 years."

An upset CMD of the Rs 1400-crore turnover Wockhardt said, "So far BA was my first choice and after this incident it will not remain the same. This shows very poorly on BA and has changed my perception on the airline, though I have not asked for any apology."

On the Boston to London leg of the flight he travelled first class and when he had to change the aircraft at the Heathrow airport, the airline staff told him about the overbooked first class. "How can any airline do that? Despite knowing fully well that the first class seats from London to Mumbai were fully sold out, they did not tell me any thing at Boston. When I was to board the aircraft at Heathrow I was told to get accommodated in the business class and I was shocked."

When Khorakiwala protested after being told by some fellow passengers, a BA customer service personnel approached him and apologised for the inconvenience. After that, she asked him to accept a $500 gift voucher as compensation and sign a receipt for the same. "When I said I am not going to sign, she promptly took it back from me. I did not say anything but it was not a good experience."

Khorakiwala said that first class passengers like him pay more than four times the fare of economy class to avail certain standards and that is why he normally travels confirmed first class. Though he frequently goes on business trips, his company executives also fly by BA most of the time as Wockhardt has a subsidiary in UK and this calls for frequent visits to London.


First Published: Nov 08, 2006 01:25 IST