Air India plans to introduce premium economy class seats on some of its flights in the aftermath of Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulting its staffer because he had to travel economy despite being entitled to a business class seat. Gaikwad had insisted on travelling business class on an all-economy flight, and later hit an airline staffer “25 times” with his slipper, triggering a row between him and Air India.
The MP was upset as he had to travel economy from Pune to Delhi to attend the Budget session of Parliament last month even though he had a business class ticket. The proposal apparently aims to accommodate MPs who are entitled to travel business class but fly on routes where the airline operates only all-economy flights.
The national carrier is mulling reconfiguring as many as eight of its aircraft operating on various domestic routes in order to introduce “very limited” number of premium economy seats, an Air India official said.
Generally, premium economy seats are positioned between economy and business class seats, with a different fare and services structure. About two years ago, Air India — which is working on ways to increase its market share — had mooted the idea of premium economy class but it was shelved due to commercial reasons.
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The idea is now being revived, especially in the wake of the Gaikwad episode, according to the official. While the final contours are still being worked out, the idea is to redesign the front row seats – three on each side of the aisle – and convert them into two seats on either side.
“The front row seats will be set aside for the proposed reconfiguration. This will ensure better leg room as well as more elbow room for the passenger,” the official said.
In efforts to provide more privacy for the traveller, the premium economy seats could be separated from the rest with curtains and the individual could also be served a different menu compared to economy class passengers, he added.
Before putting in place the premium economy category, the official said the airline would amend its fare rules to allow business class passengers to travel on premium economy seats in case of non-availability of seats in higher class.
“The rules will also specify that a passenger who opts for this exchange of seats cannot claim the difference between premium and business class fare,” the official noted.
Parliamentarians are entitled to one business class return air ticket on an Air India flight from the airport closest to their constituency to the capital for each of the four Parliament sessions per year.
In addition to this, they are also eligible for another 16 business class return tickets on Air India for travel as part of carrying out their duties.
At present, Vistara is the only domestic carrier which offers a three-class cabin – business, premium economy, and economy – across its 13-aircraft fleet.