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Wednesday, Jul 03, 2002

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Air India launches e-ticketing in US

Prakash M. Swamy

NEW YORK, July 2

AIR INDIA has launched Web-based e-ticketing to serve North American passengers here.

Mr Roy Paul, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Chairman of the airline along with Mr.V.K. Verma, AI's Commercial Director and Mr Yogesh D. Mathur, Regional Director, Air India, New York, inaugurated the service at a function here.

Later, addressing the New York-based Indian journalists, Mr Paul said the Web-based ticketing would be of immense help for passengers not only in major cities, but also in remote areas not served by travel agents. The tickets would be mailed to passengers once they pay the fare through credit cards at the Web site.

He said Air India would introduce thrice a week service between New Delhi-Mumbai to New York via Paris from December 2002. There will be connecting flights from Chennai and Kochi where passengers could complete immigration and customs.

Also, the existing thrice-a-week service from Chicago would become daily and Los Angeles and Toronto would be added to Air India maps soon to serve the growing demand of passengers from North America.

Air India is also planning to add a new premium class facility for full-fare economy class passengers. To be pitched between economy and business class section, the premium class will offer more leg space, choice of food and better in-fight services.

The first class and business class passengers travelling trans-Atlantic would have 180-degree slumberette flat bed seats shortly, he said. Mr Paul said Air India had been talking to some airlines in the US to hook them up with its frequent flyer programmes in the domestic routes. It is also planning to conduct regular counselling sessions to its ground staff and officers on how to deal with passengers where there is a delay.

"How you put across the message is also more important. Passengers will be made to feel that they are not neglected. Air India is now concentrating on adding more aircraft to augment fleet strength and improving passenger facilities after the Government had shelved the disinvestment proposal," he said. "It will be revived as an international airline."

"While Singapore Airlines set up by Air India could become one of the best in the world, we have failed to put Air India to its glory. JRD Tata's soul would be in little trouble," he said in a lighter vein.

Unfortunately, the airline lost an appetite to grow in the last six or seven years. Only this year, it made profit, he added. Air India has decided to add 34 new aircraft over a period of five years and of which three would be acquired on priority basis. The board was working on various configurations of the aircraft — Airbus or Boeing — and the deal was expected to be closed in four months, subject to the approval of the Government, he said.

Once the configuration is figured out, Air India is planning to create service facilities so that it could at least dry lease aircraft to meet the growing needs. The airline will also phase out existing old aircraft. With the dry lease, the airline would be in a position to run long-haul flights to Europe and North America and increase the frequencies. Responding to criticism on Air India's high personnel-flights ratio, he said: "The staff strength appears to be more as we do a lot of in-house jobs which most airlines outsource. I am also not denying that we have inherited some baggage over the years due to archaic labour laws in India. These laws make not only Air India, but most public sector units uncompetitive."

Mr Paul said he would not buy the argument that privatisation efforts would receive a setback with the Government's decision on Air India. "We don't know when the privatisation issue would be revived. I can't predict that."

Mr Andy Bhatia, Area Passenger Sales Manager, North America, said the industry's benchmark standards on aircraft delays in the US was 87 per cent while Air India achieved 93 per cent.

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