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Air India & The Fine Art of Airline Upgrades

Three days ago a Bollywood actor and her friend had a flaming row with Air India counter staff after the latter allegedly denied the friend an upgrade. Getting upgrades on airlines is an art, though with Air India, it could be argued that its a science as well. I've been lucky on a couple of ocassions on international carriers, where profile and the right VIP associations are not necessary preconditions for upgrades.

What I mean is its been plain luck. Mostly, its been a surprise at the boarding gate, where my stub has been taken, a new seat number written on and handed back. But I've always wondered whether its an easy thing to ask for, leave alone fight for. Am not saying the young ladies in question demanded they be upgraded or else..aviation minister Praful Patel would be summoned to set things right, as some newspapers reported.

Air India's own reasoning for offering the upgrade was apparently that the actor had commercial importance and hence was upgraded. For a change, I can't argue with that one. Though Air India could fly all the Bollywood actors it wants and it couldn't save themselves from plunging into losses this year. Or for that matter the next, if it remains the way it is.

The Art Of Getting Upgrades

The fact is that many passengers have mastered the art of getting upgrades. Many plan it long before the actual flight takes place. To that extent the Bollywood actor in question hasn't figured life out completely. Most passengers, having secured an upgrade for free or at an remarkably lower cost, boast about the feat endlessly. I recall doing it a few times myself. After all, why woudn't you talk about the equivalent of hitting a mid-air jackpot ?

A young lady recently gave me a long lecture on how airline miles should be accumulated for free tickets and upgrades. She said it was utter foolishness not to take advantage of such facilities. I've been a little more careful since then. But as it happens, after that lecture, I have not flown that much.

Ive seen people asking for upgrades at counters. And mostly nicely. Not saying I will call so and so and get you fixed if you don't give it to me. These are the most decent chaps. They want the luxury of business class travel, can't afford it but don't mind asking. The not so decent ones are those who've obviously fixed it before arriving at the airport. And I don't mean by sending a requisition form to the airline concerned.

Till Death Do Us Apart

Being a Government-owned entity in India is not an easy thing. Which is why Air India typically faces the worst of it. Not to say that the airline itself is not at fault. I've stood in business class lines (paid for) where most of the people before and after me were employees or relatives of employees travelling on free tickets. And wanting further upgrades and adjustments.

Once I noticed an oldish couple showing American passports and collecting boarding cards. This followed a long, painful and totally pointless discussion with the counter staff where they bargained like they were buying fish at the Bandra (in Mumbai) fish market. They were either employees or relatives. But it amazed me that you could actually be a citizen of another country and still claim benefits from a state-owned airline !

I would love to write more on Air India, an airline I vowed not to fly even if I die - translated, even my coffin (were I to cop it on international soil) would not be brought back on this airline. But that's for another day.


For an Airline that was considered at one time in the distant past as among the best to what it is now, pathetic. It was good during JRD's times and then Mr.Morarjee Desai sacked him, begining a donslide that cannot be arrested. For one of the oldest Airlines around and a rich history surrounding it, what it needs is for freedom from politicians and bureaucrats.
Anonymous said…
FWIW, AI employees get a confirmed ticket only if there are no paying passengers for those seats. If a paying passenger turns up at the last moment (say for e.g. you board a BOM-LON-NY flight, and while you are in the air, a paying passenger turns up, you are either booted off the plane or you are accomodated in an upper/lower class.) So if you are an AI employee or immediate family (no relatives, only immediate family are allowed 2/4 international tickets an year) and you travel BOM-LON-NY you have to get British Visas as well as American, because you may well be booted off the plane at London !
Anonymous said…
well i wouldnt know of air india(have never traveled abroad). But Indian Airlines faces the same problems.
My frnd who's dad workls in IA can fly 24 flights a year for free. and he is no longer a dependent, works for an IT MNC.

and he doesnt seem to be bothered about getting his reservation. He seems to get seats on the busisest sectors (delhi mumbai) on any goddamed flight
Devinder said…
These people who find faults in India or Air-india are suffering from inferiority complex. For them anything other than India or indian is great. You cannot really win such people by argument. They are basically ignorant people. How can you get 24 flights an year? this is total baseless remark, without any evidence. Again ignorant.
Anonymous said…
Air India was never seen as among the best. It has always been a pitiful example of an airline.
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Anonymous said…
For the reporter who wrote this article in the first place..may he die abroad and may all airlines refuse to bring his corpse back..and alas! there's only AI...because AIrIndia is known for its warmth and hospitality (will without a moments hesitation do so)which is what we Indians truly are!!
It just goes to show how when our own selfish personal needs,(free upgrades) if not met, we would go to any extend to try and spoil anothers this case AIR INDIA!
Mpatel said…
Warmth and hospitality! What a joke. Air India is the complete opposite. There is no warmth and hospitality when it comes to treating passengers. Once you purchase a ticket, they could care less what happens to you. I had such a bad experience with my last flight that I too have vowed to never travel air india again. I am not talking about upgrades, or even in-flight service but rather the treatment of passengers when their flight is cancelled, the lies we were told and the "we don't care" attitude shown by ALL Air India staff at Ahmedabad and Bombay airports.
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Milan said…
You cannot blame AI for the way it is - a dreadful airline. We have to look at India and its people as a whole (these are the people who own and work on the airline) - the whole Indian society has an attitude of carelessness and of self interest. They have a pocket book of lies that can be instantly used under any circumstances. So how can you blame Air India which is the by-product of the Indian Society - totally dreadful. Ps....I am an Indian (NRI) and I love India. Lets fix it - make India an envy of the world.

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