When it comes to ending VIP culture, Air India could turn out to be an accidental champion. For, not only did the airline’s officials make Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis wait for a flight on Friday night, they waited till 20 minutes after the plane’s scheduled take-off time to inform him that it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Airline officials cite shortage of crewmembers for the delays on the national carrier. File pic
Authorities from the national carrier then made the CM who had to get to Delhi urgently and his convoy rush to T2 to take another flight, which was also delayed by 14 minutes. The reason the first flight was delayed was that the pilot was not available, despite AI officials knowing that Fadnavis was going to be travelling on it.
The other flight Fadnavis was accommodated on was also delayed by 14 minutes. File pic/Getty Images
On Friday, Fadnavis had checked in and was waiting to board AI 605, which was scheduled to depart for Delhi at 9 pm. At 9.20 pm, he was informed that the flight would not be taking off anytime soon. He was not told when the flight would take off.
An airline official confirmed that the assigned pilot, Amit Karunakaran, could not report for the flight, which was supposed to fly with 161 adult passengers including the CM two infants and six crew members, as his mandated rest period was not over.
“The pilots follow a roster (list showing turns of duty or leave) and it seems that the pilot was yet to complete his rest period, due to which he insisted that he would be able to report only by 10 pm,” said a senior AI official. Fadnavis was then given the option of heading to the international terminal, T2, and board AI 101, which was scheduled to leave at 9.30 pm.
“I had to wait for a long time to board the flight and the airline informed me that it wasn’t going to take off anytime soon due to non-availability of the pilot. I had to, however, reach Delhi urgently and hence when they said they could accommodate me on AI 101, I left for T2 to board the flight without thinking twice,” the chief minister told mid-day.
The CM and his convoy got to T2, where they realised that even the other flight was delayed by 14 minutes. Fadnavis finally took flight aboard AI 101 at 9.44 pm. “If this can happen to me, I can only imagine what the other passengers must be going through.
I am going to speak to the Union aviation minister regarding the issues related to Air India soon,” said Fadnavis, evidently dismayed by the services of the Maharaja.
Confirming the incident, a senior AI official said, “Fadnavis was informed about the non-availability of the pilot only at 9.20 pm, after which the CM and his convoy had to be shifted from the domestic terminal to the international terminal.
A crewmember from the airline said, “Six pilots have resigned last week, adding to the critical staff shortage. Crew members are upset that their flying schedule is suddenly changed, without giving them enough time to rest before flying again.
This takes a toll on us, and hence, the cases of crew members being rude to passengers are increasing. We are human beings, after all, and get tired when we are on duty without any rest. The airline has to take quick decisions on improving the system to get more passengers.”
Asked why there was no pilot on standby, a senior AI official said, “Earlier, the airline had pilots on standby around the clock in eight-hour shifts to operate flights if such situations occurred. The shortage of crewmembers has, however, ensured that this practice is completely stopped now.”
The other side
An official spokesperson for Air India said, “AI 605 was delayed due to non-availability of a crewmember as they follow and work as per the roster. However, the next flight, which was scheduled to take off at 9.30 pm, was arranged for the chief minister.”