Air India may have been sold to the Tata Group but, at least, in one aspect, it seems, its disinvestment isn’t complete: upgrading seats and “special handling” of a Government officer. Records reviewed by The Indian Express show that Rajiv Bansal, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, who left for United States May 7 on a personal trip with his wife Aparna Bansal bought Air India Economy Class tickets at a rate cheaper than other passengers on their booking dates. After boarding, their seating was upgraded to Business Class.
Bansal, a 1988 batch IAS officer, was appointed Secretary on September 22 last year a day after the government decided to sell its stake in Air India. He took charge on October 1, 2021.
He has served Air India earlier as its Chairman-cum-Managing Director (CMD).
Bansal and his wife Aparna Bansal left for Newark (New Jersey, United States) on Air India flight AI-105 on May 7. They are scheduled to return later this month.
A day before his scheduled flight, records show, an official from the Office of Chief Commercial Officer (CCO Nipun Aggarwal) wrote an email to several officials of Air India asking for “meet and assist,” “special handling” and an upgrade to Business “subject to availability” for the Bansals.
The Indian Express has learnt that the Bansals were not only upgraded to Business class but they were also offered Economy Class ticket at rates lower than what other passengers reportedly had to pay.
Records show Rajiv Bansal’s ticket was booked on April 1, 2022, and his wife’s on February 24, 2022. For other passengers, round-trip rates for that route that day were about Rs 80,000 (for February 24) and nearly Rs 1.41 lakh (for April 1). However, sources said that both the Bansal tickets were at a “much reduced rate.”
The Indian Express sent an email to Rajiv Bansal asking him about the upgrade, the reduced fares for his tickets, and whether this raised questions of propriety. “I would suggest that you verify the facts with the owners of the airline first,” Bansal replied.
The Indian Express asked Air India CCO Aggarwal about the email sent from his office asking for special handling and the upgrade. In response, Aruna Gopalakrishnan, ED, Corporate Affairs, wrote: “Air India has an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for extending protocol and upgrades subject to space availability and other related factors. We would not like to comment on individual cases.”