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Minnesota Senator's Air India nightmare

Last updated on: November 05, 2007 20:16 IST

Minnesota State Senator Satveer Chaudhary on Monday alleged his wife was harassed, his family was bumped from the flight and were then asked to pay additional fees to rebook an Air India flight.

The senator's wife, children and mother-in-law were to board a 07:20 flight to JFK flight, New York from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.

"It was an outrageous end to a wonderful stay in my parent's birth land," fumed Senator Chaudhary. "I was in India on a Minnesota/India trade mission, and my family later joined me. At 04:50 am, our family arrived at the IGI Airport attempting to board Air India flight AI 111". It was then that a series of difficulties began.

"First they were denied entrance into the airport due to inadequate ticketing proof provided by Air India. Dee and our family were finally granted entrance at about 5:15am. I then left the airport".

Once inside the senator's wife, Dee Chaudhary, with a young daughter and toddler in tow was harassed by two young male security screeners asking for rupees. They then approached the Air India check-in line where in the words of the senator's wife, "A uniformed young man took our passports. He issued a handwritten e-ticket in the names of my family, the flight number and two circular stamps. We proceeded to stand in line," said Mrs Chaudhary. "There were problems with several reservations and most people ahead of us demanded an explanation".

At about 6:00 am the Senator's family and those in line were informed the flight was overbooked and no arrangements were in place for those going on to New York. "There were possible flights for London passengers. Air India offered some seats through Mumbai with no guarantee of getting Heathrow. No provisions for those going to New York were presented," stated the appalled and exhausted mother.

"When told we had four confirmed seats, management said overbooking was simply a matter of the season, and was routinely done. I estimate between 30 and 50 other passengers were bumped, including an elderly couple".

More shocking was the fact that during this time Mrs Chaudhary observed an irate passenger waving a gold credit card and a large rupee note. He then got a seat on the over-booked flight. "You hear about white and black money, but this was so blatant!" White and black money refers to the public and private bribery that has been a bane to Indian life for years.

Mrs Chaudhary continued, "When I asked a manager what my mother, children and I should do about getting to New York, she gave me three numbers to call for re-booking. She said not to worry, just call, and they would take care of it. By now, I have two cranky and scared kids, and no help in sight."

The family eventually rejoined the senator and called Air India. The Chaudhary's were hung up on twice (once by a customer service manager, Mr. Mansoor Desai's supervisor, Mr. Naresh Kumar), disconnected three times, and given a non-working number to call. "This was the beginning of the fraudulent actions," fumes the senator. "When I tried to rebook my family, the airline stated they were 'no-shows', and demanded we return to the airport and pay an additional no-show fee. This incident is entirely the fault of the airline, and I object to being asked to pay to fix their mistakes and lies!"

Senator Chaudhary has been in close contact with the US Embassy, and other Indian governmental agencies about the blunder, and believes permanent corrective measures need to be taken. "This airline is run by a government wishing to increase commerce and tourism. I am appalled by such fraudulent treatment. My family and others were abused, and subjected to an overbooking cover-up scheme. This company committed fraud by listing multiple passengers as 'no-shows'. The deception was only superceded by the apathy and rudeness of management".

The Senator continued with irony, "India is wonderful place with so much to offer, as long as one never needs to leave via Air India". The Senator regrets the impression this incident will make in promoting commerce and tourism with US and Minnesota firms.

A Correspondent in New York