File notings were disclosed by the national carrier in response to an RTI query

Air India deployed a larger aircraft apparently to accommodate the family of the then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on its Bangalore-Maldives trip in April 2010, file notings disclosed by the national carrier have indicated.

There were claims earlier that since the business class seats were already booked on the A319 aircraft IC-965 from Bangalore to Male, Air India switched to the bigger A320 with 20 business class seats to accommodate seven members of the Deshpande family — in-laws of Mr. Patel's daughter Avni. The passenger list, disclosed on the directives of the Central Information Commission, shows that the Deshpandes — Congress leader R.V. Deshpande, Radha Deshpande, Prasad Deshpande, Meghna Deshpande and Master Dhruv, in addition to Avni and her husband Prashant Deshpande — were indeed on board IC-965 on April 25, 2010 for the Bangalore-Male and IC-966 from Male to Bangalore on April 28, 2010.

The file notings show that instructions were issued through email from the Mumbai headquarters. The order, a copy of which was supplied with the RTI reply said, “Due to heavy demand in J Class on Bangalore-Male on April 25, 2010 and Male-Bangalore on April 28, 2010, the J Class capacity is increased on the above two dates by rotation change in equipment.”

The order for the change was evidently from top officials of Air India, as the copy on the decision was sent to Aben Lal, who is now General Manager, Commercial, with the note “this is in reference to your telecon with Mr. F J Vaz [now Executive Director, Commercial].''

The reply stated, “Station Manager, Bangalore, received an e-mail on April 8, 2010 from Harjeet Sawhney, the then Manager (scheduling), Commercial Headquarters, Air India, Mumbai, regarding change of equipment on April 25 and 28, 2010.'' With the change in the aircraft, the carrier had to fly with six vacant seats in the business class and 47 in the economy class on the way from Bangalore to Male, the passenger list revealed under the RTI Act to activist Subhash Agrawal shows. Similarly, while returning on April 28, eight business class seats and 52 economy seats were vacant on the flight IC-966 from Male to Bangalore.

The carrier, which was hesitant to disclose the passenger details even after the orders of the CIC, was issued show cause notice for non-compliance.

While furnishing details, Air India said: “Though keeping in view the spirit of RTI Act, 2005, we are complying with the orders of the Information Commissioner [Sushma Singh] and providing the information to the appellant, it is humbly requested that this may please not be allowed to be treated as precedent since the company, keeping in view its commercial interests, follows the practice of not disclosing the travel particulars of its valued passengers, which are personal to them, to any third party.”