India's table tennis star Manika Batra and six other top paddlers en route to an international event were left stranded at the Indira Gandhi International Airport after being denied boarding on a Melbourne flight by national carrier Air India today.
Air India, however, laid the blame on late arrival of players and the bookings done under different PNRs.
The Indian contingent, comprising 17 players and officials, was scheduled to participate at the ITTF World Tour Australian Open starting today in Melbourne.
But to their disbelief, only 10 members of the team were allowed boarding after Air India told them that the flight was overbooked.
Besides Manika, veteran Mouma Das was among the seven players denied boarding. The national carrier drew social media ire after the incident.
Commonwelath Games gold medallist Manika took to social media to share her ordeal and asked Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and the Prime Minister's Office to look into the matter.
"Our contingent of total 17 players & officials of Indian table tennis team including CWG medalist myself, Sharath Kamal, Mouma Das, Madhurika, Harmeet, Suthirta, Sathyan were supposed to fly today to Melbourne by AI 0308 to participate in ITTF World Tour Australian Open from tom," she tweeted.
"On reaching Air India counter we were told dat flight is overbooked & only 10 members of TT team can fly which left us in a shock. 7 of us are still unable to fly.All the tickets were booked by Balmer Lawrie," Manika added.
Facing criticism, the airline said it was not apprised beforehand about the travel plans as per practice and that it had the highest respect for sportspersons.
"#airindia has a rich legacy in promoting sports and has always had the highest respect for sportspersons. The Indian #Tabletennisteam were booked for today's melbourne flt under different PNRs & some of them may have reported after all other pax had checked in.
"Contrary to the practice, #AirIndia was not apprised beforehand about the travel of team. The players were provided with hotel stay and offered flight for next day," it tweeted.
Alarmed by the situation, Director General of Sports India (erstwhile Sports Authority of India) Neelam Kapur swung into action and sorted out the matter.
"The TT team have been booked on an alternate flight leaving later tonight," Kapur confirmed on her official Twitter handle.