Here, I would like to narrate another experience which would remain etched in my memory forever. This Politician was a former Diplomat and left Foreign services early to join politics and remained Minister from 1985 to 1989.He was elected to Lok Sabha and later nominated to Rajya Sabha.
The incident I am narrating is from 1998 and I was posted at Delhi Airport as Duty Manager. We were performing a night duty from 2300 hrs to 0730 hrs. And we were handing a very important flight whose routing was Bombay/Delhi/London/New York and was a favourite of Politicians and top Bureaucrats.On this flight, we had a special handling message for this person and his wife who were booked in Executive class and there was a message from CMD’s office to upgrade him and wife to First Class subject to availability of seats.
Unfortunately for them, First class was fully booked.And this was a tremendous cause of worry. As usual,his protocol officer came two hours before departure and wanted the boarding cards for First class. We politely refused and informed him that it was not possible at that time and that we will try once the check in is closed. The so called VVIP came in one hour prior to departure and kept badgering me and my PR staff. But we had him and his wife quickly processed through government formalities and made him sit in Our Maharaja lounge. He continued his aggressive intent and talked to our CMD from his mobile phone. The CMD then spoke to me and I explained the situation to him. The politician had the audacity to suggest that two actually booked first class passengers could be downgraded to Executive class for them to be accommodated in First class. We were aghast at his temerity and other passengers seated in the lounge were quite amused.
We then took him for boarding and he kept abusing and cursing Airindia as he could not find a seat in first class. Just as we were coming out of the aircraft after boarding them, he came running and told me that he had seen a Commander of Airindia sitting in first class. We went in again and realised that the Commander was going as a supernumerary crew as he was to take the same flight from London to New York and his travel in First class as per agreement between Management and Pilot’s union.
The politician was flummoxed and called the CMD from the aircraft. I had to tell the CMD that if we were to downgrade the commander, it could lead to dispute as the Pilots association was very powerful.
The CMD apologised profusely and then the aircraft doors were shut and the flight left almost 10 minutes late. This incident clearly points to the arrogance of the politicians and bureaucrats and how Airindia was taken for a ride by them. Incidentally after this, Airindia introduced a scheme for these VVIPs which was known as Upgrade to First class or Executive class on firm basis to placate all and sundry in this influential class. We came across quite a few cases later on when these people were booked in the cheapest economy class fare and upgraded to either First class or Executive class on firm basis thereby causing loss of revenue to the company.
The politician in question is not named here, but it would be obvious to inform that he became a Minister again in 2004 but lasted only for one year. He was summarily removed from his post in 2005 for scandal in some oil deal in Iraq.
This is the first person account of VIP handling by Bharat Chaturvedi, Retired Executive Director of Air India