The Tata Group-owned airline said that the move is expected to help Air India save $1 million annually.
A day after India’s top paddlers were left stranded at the New Delhi Airport after being denied boarding on a Melbourne flight, the country’s highest ranked player G.Sathiyan termed the incident “shocking”, but at the same time praising the mandarins of the sport for their swift action.
The Indian contingent, comprising 17 players and officials, are scheduled to participate at the ITTF World Tour Australian Open starting on Monday in Melbourne.
On arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Sunday, only 10 members of the team were allowed boarding after Air India told them that the flight was overbooked.
Among the seven, who could not fly was Commonwealth Games gold medallist padder Manika Batra and veteran Mouma Das.
The national carrier drew criticism on social media after the incident.
“Very unfortunate and shocking as we had a confirmed ticket as well from Air India and we never expected something like this would happen,” Sathiyan told IANS from Melbourne.
Along with the 40th ranked player, celebrated paddler Sharath Kamal and six others have reached the venue while Mouma and Manika are slated to arrive at night.
“I am really disappointed and hope we don’t face such problems in future from the airline,” Sathiyan continued.
“It will be quite hard for the players who come late but I still feel it was really nice that SAI, sports ministry & TTFI (Table Tennis Federation of India) made good efforts in the last minute to fly them as early as possible with alternate arrangements.
“They will reach tonight and sleep over there as well (New Delhi) otherwise they were supposed to reach next day morning few hours before the match which would have been worse,” he added.
Expressing her disbelief, Manika had tweeted on Sunday, saying, “Our contingent of total 17 players and officials of Indian table tennis team including CWG medallist myself, Sharath Kamal, Mouma Das, Madhurika, Harmeet, Suthirta, Sathyan were supposed to fly today to Melbourne by AI 0308 to participate in ITTF World Tour Australian Open from tom.”
“On reaching Air India counter we were told that the flight is overbooked and only 10 members of TT team can fly which left us in a shock. 7 of us are still unable to fly. All the tickets were booked by Balmer Lawrie.”
Air India had laid the blame on late arrival of players and the bookings done under different PNRs.
Sathiyan though brushed aside such talk and stressed that the carrier should have done a better job rather than leaving them on the lurch.
“Still I feel Air India should manage it better as not leave passengers like this.
“They gave us hotel, food and stuff but the purpose would have been defeated had we not reached on time.”
It was Director General of Sports India (erstwhile Sports Authority of India) Neelam Kapur, who swung into action and sorted out the matter.