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Air India airline fined for fake visas

Dubai: Air India is paying thousands of dirhams in penalties while sending back workers who land in the UAE on fake, cancelled, or mismatched visas, a top official told XPRESS.

"In the last six months alone, we have paid a penalty of Dh70,000 in addition to the cost of providing for the workers' meals and one-way tickets back to India," said Abhay Pathak, Regional Manager of Air India for Gulf, Middle East & Africa.

Defending the Indian national carrier's stringent Okay to Board (OTB) rules whereby sponsors or representatives of passengers are required to produce the original visas in person to get an OTB stamp on the passenger's reservation, he said the practice is not out of line.

"While other Indian airlines - like Jet Airways and Kingfisher - claim they do not have any OTB requirements, Air India Express strictly goes by the clearance, without which passengers are not allowed to board the plane at the port of embarkation.

And unlike other airlines like Emirates which permit visa copies to be sent by fax or e-mail, Air India requires that the original document is produced in person.

Some exceptions

Pathak clarified that the airline does make exceptions and accepts copies of visas by fax or e-mail where there are official requests made by an organisation whose credentials are not questionable.

However, requests by individual sponsors or agents are not entertained and they must present the visas in original at the Air India office.

He said the large bulk of labourers from India - along with Kathmandu, Bangladesh and Pakistan - who come to the UAE fly the low-cost Air India Express. As such, it runs a higher risk of carrying passengers whose visas could be manipulated by sponsors or others who make last-minute changes.

He said there have been instances where up to 30-40 labourers have landed on a single flight on visas that are either fake, mismatched or cancelled by sponsors or agents.

"We have even had one full flight of such workers who arrived from Bangladesh," he said. And for every such worker who is detected and deported, the airline is fined a sum of Dh5,000, in addition to Dh1,000 per day that the worker spends at the airport.

"Why should an airline be penalised for no fault on its part?" said Pathak, adding that Air India has been impressing upon local authorities and the Government of India to put a corrective mechanism in place.

Asked why a Dh15 fee is being charged for the OTB stamp, he said it is a service fee by the GSA (general sales agent).

He said Air India operates 207 flights (102 Air India and 105 Air India Express) from the UAE to 16 destinations with a total of 111 aircraft whose average age is five-and-a half years.

The airline is working on the development of a sub-hub in Dubai or Sharjah which will minimise flight delays and operational inefficiencies, he noted.

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