Days after Minister of State for Civil Aviation K C Venugopal unearthed a major ticketing lapse, Air India suspended two officials saying 'negligence' by its customer service staff resulted in a domestic flight operating with 23 empty seats even when there was a wait-list for the flight.
The airline initiated an internal probe after Venugopal, who was on board a Delhi-Kochi-Thiruvananthapuram flight on January 4, saw 23 vacant seats inside while a Kerala minister was denied a seat on grounds of 'non-availability'.
The junior minister promptly asked Air India to probe the matter.
Following the directive, the airline launched the inquiry and suspended two officials of the customer service department pending its completion.
The probe found that two groups of passengers were supposed to travel by that flight as per the 'summary sheet'.
However, one of these groups had not been ticketed though Passenger Name Record numbers were issued to them, airline officials said.
The customer service staff only saw the 'summary sheet' but did not pull out the PNRs to check whether tickets had been issued to this group, they said, adding that this led the flight to operate with 23 vacant seats.
Had these staffers checked whether tickets had been issued on the basis of these PNRs, the vacancies would not have existed as this capacity would have been released for bookings and to accommodate waitlisted passengers, the officials said, terming it as 'negligence' on part of the staffers concerned.
Venugopal was not only concerned over the inconvenience caused by the airline staffers to the harried wait-listed passengers, but was also upset by the losses to the cash-strapped airline due to such lapses.
He has directed the airline now to examine the history of old bookings and see whether this was a one-off instance or a regular feature that could lead to a scam. The booking system should have a corrective mechanism to provide clarity on the seat status on each flight, he suggested.
The exposure comes at a time when, as per official figures, Air India suffered an average loss of Rs 404 crore (Rs 4.04 billion) every month between March and October last year. The state-run company had a cash inflow of Rs 1,348 crore (Rs 13.48 billion) per month while the outflow due to high fuel costs was Rs 1,752 crore (Rs 17.52 billion), leading to cash deficit.
Air India now has an accumulated loss of over Rs 28,000 crore (Rs 280 billion).