State-owned loss-making carrier Air India has been pulled up by its internal audit team for upgrading passengers to higher class seats as per its whims and not having any defined criteria for such practices. The internal audit team, which found that a record number of passengers — 36,092 — were upgraded from economy class to either first or executive class during January-June 2014 on flights between Delhi and Mumbai, has said that in future it should be mandatory for check-in staff to specify the reason and authority for upgrades in the history of the e-tickets for better internal control.
To check such arbitrary and high number of upgrades, it has also said that the airline should work towards better utilisation of seats in the first/executive class, failing which the possibility of reducing such seats should be explored. These harsh observations were made when the audit team found out that such upgrades did not follow any logical pattern but were purely arbitrary and no reasons for doing so were recorded.
For instance, normally passengers are upgraded in cases of overbooking of a flight in a particular class or to earn the goodwill of VIP or premium passengers. However, Air India has not maintained any records that show this was the case for such a record number of upgrades.
“Such upgradation should be done judiciously since it entails extra cost for the airline on account of special facilities being provided to executive/first class passengers. During the period under review 23,618 passengers (average 156 passengers per day) were upgraded at Delhi airport and 12,474 passengers (average 82 passengers per day) were upgraded at Mumbai airport. These numbers appear to be quite high,” the audit report has noted.
What’s interesting is that normally passengers are upgraded to the next higher class only. However, in the case of Air India, the audit has noticed that as many as 1,783 passengers were upgraded directly from economy class to first class during the period under review.
Further, for the purpose upgrading normally full fare/higher fare paying passengers is to be considered first. However, in AI’s case as many as 12,028 upgraded passengers (33% of the total upgraded passengers) had booked tickets in the five lowest classes.
Air India CMD, Rohit Nandan told FE that the matter is being investigated. However he pointed out that this was due to combination of factors with lots of flights during the winter months getting dislocated as a result of fog and limited availability of aircraft resource. “A large number of passengers were upgraded to business class to create capacity to accommodate passengers from dislocated flights. In any case the commercial director (of Air India) is enquiring into the report to see if their was any irregularity.”