Sucheta Dalal :How AirIndia treats unaccompanied minors
Sucheta Dalal

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How AirIndia treats unaccompanied minors  

January 9, 2007

This is the experience of Abhay Pethe, as narrated by him to a consumer group.

This is to share my experience with our national carrier, Air India .

This experience has left me shocked to say the least. I would like to advise everybody to be extremely careful when flying with Air India .

I intend to approach Consumer Courts. Your valuable guidance / help in this matter would be most welcome.

I had sent my 7 years old son, Varun, to India during Christmas vacation as an unaccompanied minor with Air India . In spite of the fact that Air India charged me the full adult fare to take care of unaccompanied minor, they have miserably failed in their duties. Please note the following chain of events.

The scheduled departure time of the return flight to Abu Dhabi was 31/Dec, 11:30 PM from Mumbai. About an hour before scheduled departure of the flight, my brother handed over custody of my son to Air India . Three hours later, we reported to Abu Dhabi airport to receive my son. An hour after reaching the airport (2:00 AM local time) while we were wandering about the airport, two strangers (not Air India) bothered to advise us that the plane will not come that time but will come only in the afternoon or late night. Only when I went to the Air India office was I informed that the aircraft was "pushed back" at Mumbai airport. The official on duty also informed me that the plane could not land now since the Abu Dhabi airport is closed from 4:00 AM to 6:30 AM. When prompted for the contact number, I reminded the official that my son was to come as an unaccompanied minor. He advised me that they must have taken my son to a hotel in Mumbai. I gave my mobile number and came out of the room totally disgusted. I had not received any call from my brother. He had not been informed so far. Who should have informed him, Air India or me? I remained disturbed for a long time. A few minutes later my brother got a call from Air India , Mumbai informing him that the plane had not left Mumbai airport, this after about 4 hours of scheduled departure time and about 5 hours after he handed over custody to Air India .

My brother then went to Mumbai Airport and there he had to wait another hour and a half to get back the custody of my son, i.e. almost 7 hours after scheduled departure time of the flight. All this time, we had been worried and could not sleep for the full night. Shocking is to note that Varun was not offered any food / meals for the period

of more than four hours when he was sitting alone in the plane and in custody of Air India. Nobody bothered to keep him occupied by offering him any books / toys to keep him occupied. My brother was told that the flight would leave the next day at 1:00 AM. I advised him not to send Varun if the flight was leaving at that time. If the Abu Dhabi

airport was to remain close, I did no want Varun to land at some other airport.

During the day, my brother got a call from a friend (not Air India ) that the flight was now preponed and was not leaving in the night but in the evening at 5:00 PM. Why Air India failed to inform him cannot be explained / appreciated. My brother was in the office and hence had to call his wife who accompanied my son to Airport. At 4:00 PM local

time, custody of my son was again transferred to Air India . The flight finally left Mumbai at about 6:00 PM i.e. one hour late from the new timing.

We could meet our son at Abu Dhabi airport only at about 8:00 PM local time. He looked tired. Thankfully, the journey was over but not before 22 hours from the originally scheduled departure time of the flight at Mumbai.


I have a few questions as below.

1. What special precautions does Air India take for Unaccompanied Minor?

2. Why was Varun left alone? Why was he not offered any food / meals / books / toys for the period of more than four hours when he was sitting unaccompanied in the plane and in custody of Air India ?

3. Why was Varun's flight delayed?

4. Why were the guardians not informed of the long delay to flight? Why was Varun made to wait out in the plane for that long? Why was Varun not allowed to go home earlier?

5. It was initially informed that there was a technical snag. Later on Air India conveyed that the flight was delayed due to lack of flight crew! What was the real reason?

6. When does Air India start to look out for alternative crew? Were the available options "flight ready" with sufficient rest?

7. Did Varun report to Air India before they started to look out for alternative crew? Why was my brother not advised of such a situation by Air India before taking Varun in their custody? Why was he not advised to wait at the airport for some more time?

8. How does Air India , Mumbai communicate with Air India , Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi International Airport Authority?

9. Was there a need for Varun's parents to go to Abu Dhabi Airport on the night of 31/Dec when the flight was not leaving Mumbai?

10. The boards at Abu Dhabi airport displayed the flight as "delayed" even after four hours of scheduled departure from Mumbai and in spite of the fact that the aircraft had not left Mumbai airport. When would Air India / Abu Dhabi airport authorities change the status to "rescheduled"?

11. What is the meaning of other status like "rescheduled" or "cancelled"? When are these status stated? Should the status of flight, which does not take off for 19 hours (31/Dec 2330 HRS to 1/Jan 1830 HRS), not be changed to "rescheduled"?

To begin with, we are first raising some questions under RTI. We will then make official complaint with Air India . I request you all to guide me in this matter.

Best Regards,

Abhay Pethe

-- Sucheta Dalal