IndiGo’s ‘extra’ passenger: What exactly happened, explained | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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IndiGo’s ‘extra’ passenger: What exactly happened, explained

May 22, 2024 11:40 AM IST

The IndiGo flight’s return to bay to offload an extra passenger puts a question mark on onboarding practices of Indian airlines.

In January 2023, GoFIRST left behind more than 50 passengers on the tarmac at Bengaluru and took off. A year and half later, IndiGo's flight to Varanasi returned to the bay as it was carrying an extra passenger. The sequence of events led to a delay in departure and a meme fest with some social media users calling this out as a trial for future.

IndiGo flight 6E 6543 to Varanasi from Mumbai had to return to bay to offload an extra passenger who was noticed in the galley. (AFP file)
IndiGo flight 6E 6543 to Varanasi from Mumbai had to return to bay to offload an extra passenger who was noticed in the galley. (AFP file)

We thought that was the last we heard of such incidents. Wrong.

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On May 21, IndiGo flight 6E 6543 to Varanasi from Mumbai had to return to the bay to offload an extra passenger who was noticed in the galley. The flight had to undergo a check of hand baggage and possible matching of check-in baggage and offloading the baggage if the extra passenger had checked in baggage before the flight could depart again with a delay.

What happened?

A standby passenger was given a seat, but the passenger had to vacate it when the actual passenger who had this seat turned up for the flight. A standby passenger is one who does not have a confirmed ticket for a particular flight and will be flown subject to the availability of the seat. There are commercial standby passengers, i.e. passengers who have a flight booking in hand but want to fly on a different flight. Alternately, airline employees who are travelling on leave are stand-by passengers who get to travel subject to load or subject to availability.

Also Read | How airlines are staying punctual despite flight delays

An airline employee who is a standby passenger has to wait until the closure of the check-in period, usually 60 minutes before departure in case of domestic flights. The boarding pass is then issued to the standby passenger, which leaves the person with enough time to complete security and ensure timely boarding. This also ensures that the passenger who is a no-show, i.e. has a booked ticket but has not shown up for the flight, does not complain - since the airline does not accept any more passengers after the closure of counters.

So how did this happen? At the close of counters, since a passenger had not reported, the seat might have been given to the standby passenger. In all probability, the fare-paying passenger was travelling without check-in baggage and reached directly to the boarding gate. The standby passenger, who was accommodated until then, would have been asked to vacate the seat and merely went to the galley. Without anybody’s notice, knowingly or unknowingly, the aircraft taxied out until the standby - who had legally entered the plane, was noticed.

Also Read | Neelesh Misra shares ‘IndiGo’s tales of arrogance’ and chaos in Delhi, airline responds

Overbooking is a standard practice in the industry, as all those who book do not turn up for the flight. Overbooking on popular flights helps increase revenue for the airline and while earlier the practice was restricted to Full Service Carriers, the regulator allowed all carriers. In April, data released by the regulator shows that 1370 passengers were denied boarding for various reasons, which would also include overbooking.

What has the airline said?

“There was an error during the passenger boarding process of 6E 6543 from Mumbai to Varanasi, wherein a standby passenger was allotted a seat reserved for a confirmed passenger. The error was noticed prior to the departure of the aircraft, and the standby passenger was de-boarded. This led to a slight delay in the departure of the aircraft. IndiGo will take all measures to strengthen its operational processes and regrets the inconvenience caused to customers,” an airline spokesperson said.

However, a return to bay kicks in all the protocols for security - which had already seen one lapse. This involves a recheck of the cabin baggage to ensure that the baggage inside the aircraft is accounted for and a similar exercise for checked-in baggage if either or both of the passengers had a checked-in baggage.

Tail note

Each airline has a different policy towards staff travel. While few have a certain number of tickets earmarked each year for confirmed seats, there are few which offer tickets only subject to load. Larger airlines even allow flights on interline partners. These tickets are priced differently based on their nature, with some being priced at almost “0” base fare, with the employee (and immediate family) having to pay just the taxes in most cases. It is part of employment privileges with an airline. The aircraft in question was a densely configured A321neo without a partition/bulkhead at the back, which would have made the passenger visible to everyone else.

IndiGo was already in the dock early this year at Mumbai, where passengers were sitting on the tarmac and had to pay a fine for their actions. Once famed for its on-Time Performance, the airline has slowly slipped on the OTP charts. Such operational goof-ups add to passengers' challenges in an environment where 60% of the market is controlled by the airline.

The new issue puts a question mark on onboarding practices as early this year, an IndiGo passenger had boarded the wrong flight at Aurangabad airport. While these instances may be far and few, in a robust process driven industry like aviation - where safety is paramount, each and every incident could be a potential disaster.

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