Air India pilots have blown the lid off the UPA's ongoing austerity drive which has seen ministers and MPs making a proud show of flying economy.
In a letter to the airline management, they alleged that ``some'' ministers and MPs insisted on an upgrade — that is seats in business class — after boarding the aircraft on economy tickets.
Some VVIPs, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) complained, even ``forcibly occupy seats in J (business) class''.
The airline, on its part, maintained that it had not come across any such case. ``The ICPA has not cited any specific example. So the question of taking action for something that has not happened so far does not arise,'' said an airline spokesperson. Officials of several airlines, however, agreed that despite the austerity drive, not many VVIPs were comfortable flying economy class.
Steering clear of the austerity issue, the ICPA only requested airline CMD Arvind Jadhav not to take disciplinary action against pilots by holding them responsible for the upgrade ``if some person in power upgraded him/herself on their own''.
After taking over, Jadhav has come down heavily on the earlier common practice of upgrades in the Air India-Indian Airlines combine. Only very senior level employees can travel business class and even for other well-connected people, the economy ticket has to be of a certain minimum fare level to be considered for upgrade.
``Many private airlines have instructions fed into their systems to give upgrades automatically, subject to availability, to certain powerful names from the political and bureaucratic spectrum. The austerity drive has mainly meant loss of revenue for us as when certain VVIPs are checked-in, we do insist on upgrading them. Sometimes they don't accept the offer and sometimes they do. But they all want to know if some senior party leader or UPA functionary is on that flight before accepting the upgrade,'' said an airport official of a private airline.
Being a government airline, IA airport staff may not be under the same stress as their private counterparts to automatically upgrade the big names holding economy tickets — possibly, leaving VVIPs to use their clout on board the aircraft to seek upgrades.
``Since they are in positions of power, our commercial staff and cabin crew are helpless as any resistance (to forcible upgrades) will lead to an awkward situation... So, at times, keeping in mind on-time performance and to avoid agitation of mind, we have to turn a blind eye to (this) problem,'' said the letter written by ICPA general secretary R S Otaal on Wednesday.
Worldwide, it is customary for airlines to upgrade commercially important persons (CIPs) or even common fliers inconvenienced by the airline in any way. However, the desi VIP culture has meant that airlines have made a habit of upgrading netas and babus.