Air India is Asking Crew to Stop Upgrading Their Friends to Business Class

Air India is warning staff that they’ll get in trouble if they keep upgrading friends and family to business class.

The Chairman of the airline sent a memo to employees,

It has come to my knowledge that operating crew carry out upgrades to business and first class unofficially during the flight for their friends and relatives. This is viewed seriously.

…It is reiterated once again that officials/crew members responsible for all such unauthorised upgrades shall face strict disciplinary action.

Air India Boeing 787

Apparently the concern is just that putting friends and family into empty business class seats trades off with selling onboard upgrades. I hadn’t been aware that Air India allows onboard upgrades for a fee. That opens a whole different avenue for crew corruption. I imagine that passengers are far more likely to have their ‘bid accepted’ if it’s paid in cash and no receipt is required.

According to a senior Air India official it’s apparently pilots rather than flight attendants most often upgrading people. Air India pilots exercise significant authority, for instance one refused to fly unless the airline assigned a preferred wooman to work with him on a Maldives flight. Another refused to divert after a bird strike. Still another refused to show up for an inaugural flight because he wanted to go to a different city instead. And then there’s the pilot who declared a (false) fuel emergency so he could land faster.

(HT: Jeff Edwards)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Like this doesn’t happen on US airlines? Also I have a friend who is friends with a gate agent. The gate agent regularly works certain flights because she is from the country the flight is going to as is my friend. When my friend flies a flight this gate agent is working she magically gets upgraded to business class. Airline employees reading this comment may swear that there must be a buddy pass or something similar involved, but no it’s just plain old Sheena. One thing I’ve learned in nearly 4 million miles of flying is that, as far as us passengers are concerned, the gate agent is all powerful.

  2. If employees actually do this, then it’s effectively embezzlement, and the punishment should be termination. It’s not too harsh, it’s appropriate. (And It would be particularly gaulling for a frequent flier who was purposely passed over for an upgrade.)

  3. I get that you give all your old references to Air India incidents in your posts. Why dont you do the same for AA, UA and DL too ?

  4. In before Indian citizens show up talking smack about the USA… oh darn, too late.


  5. Try getting cash in India and you’ll realize how unlikely it is that passengers would have their bid accepted if it’s paid in cash…

  6. When the non-stop SFO-DEL flight started, I had the pleasure of flying it twice in two months. I was in business class, and noticed the same thing each time – flying both ways. When boarding, business class is relatively empty. As soon as the door closes, people rush from the lower caste seats to business class and take them. Then, an air hostess walks around and collects cash fees for this inflight upgrade. The lady next to me said that the going rate was $200.

    My best guess is that the money is pocketed by the crew.

    So, there’s that

  7. This dirty old trick of upgrading their friends ( and their friends ) have been going on for half a century, nothing new.

    If AI wants to STOP this non-sense they need fire people who do this . It is costing national carrier hundreds of millions of dollars every year, people who want to pay and fly business class are told no seats available or if you are their Gold member forget it, you are worth less then toilet paper for useless AI employees.

    This what happens when govt. of India wants to be in business of airline rather then doing running corrupt free nation.

    What is happening in AI today will go on for next 50 years.

    I can write more but this makes me sick as I know how things are played inside AI

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