AI changed aircraft for minister's kin

A320 used to accommodate Praful Patels relatives

Air India employed a larger aircraft to accommodate former Karnataka minister and senior Congress leader R V Deshpande and six members of his family, who are in-laws of then Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel’s daughter, during their trip to the Maldives from Bangalore two years ago.

According to the reply to an RTI application, the Mumbai headquarters of Air India emailed instructions to change the ‘equipment’ of the Bangalore–Male flight on April 25 and the Male-Bangalore flight on April 28, 2010, from a smaller Airbus A319 to the larger A320.

Normally, Air India flies an Airbus A319 on the route. The A319 has eight business class seats and 114 economy seats.

Since all the seven business class seats were already booked on the IC–965 departing from Bangalore, Air India switched to the larger A320 aircraft, with 20 business class seats, to facilitate the seven members of the Deshpande family.

The list of passengers as disclosed to noted RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal showed that the Deshpandes were on board the IC–965 April 25, 2010 for the Bangalore–Male trip and IC–966 for the return trip, Male–Bangalore, on April 28, 2010.

Air India released this information reluctantly after receiving a show cause notice from the Central Information Commission (CIC). The carrier said, “It is requested that this may not be allowed to be treated as precedent since the company follows the practice of not disclosing travel particulars of its valued passengers to any third party.”

The seven who travelled included Congress leader R V Deshpande, Radha Deshpande, Prasad Deshpande, Meghna Deshpande and Master Dhruv, in addition to Praful Patel’s daughter Avni and her husband Prashant Deshpande. With the change in the aircraft, the carrier had to fly with six vacant seats in the business class and 47 vacant seats in the economy class on the way from Bangalore to Male on its flight IC–965.

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