Air India passenger finds insect in meal; airline, partially owned by SIA, responds

Air India passenger finds insect in meal; airline, partially owned by SIA, responds

INDIA — An Air India passenger, travelling in business class from Mumbai to Chennai on Monday (27 Feb) shared a video of an insect he found in his in-flight meal.

“@airindiain insect in the meal served in business class. Doesn’t look like hygiene was taken. My flight was AI671 -Mumbai to chennai Seat 2C,” passenger Mahavir Jain tweeted.

Responding to the video, Air India said: “Dear Mr. Jain, we’re sorry to note your experience while flying with us. This is not something good to hear. We strictly follow measures to ensure hygiene at every step of the process.”

“However, could you please DM your date of travel, and flight details along with the seat number? We’ll highlight this to our catering team for immediate review and action,” the airline said.

Earlier, on the same day, two such complaints surfaced regarding Air India.

An Indian diplomat alleged the poor facilities at the airline’s business class lounge at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York. India’s High Commissioner to Guyana, Antigua & Barbuda, St.Kitts & Nevis, Dr K.J. Srinivasa, alleged that the Air India business class lounge at JFK Airport had “empty” food containers, disposable plates and cutlery and “unresponsive” staff.

On the same day, renowned Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor on Monday also hit out at Air India after he was served unsatisfactory meals on a flight from Nagpur to Mumbai.

“Wake Up @airindiain. Nagpur-Mumbai 0740 flight. Cold Chicken Tikka with watermelon, cucumber, tomato & sev Sandwich with minuscule filling of chopped cabbage with mayo Sugar syrup Sponge painted with sweetened cream & yellow glaze,” Kapoor tweeted. “Really! Is this what Indians should eat for breakfast?”

SIA owns 25 per cent of Air India

Last October, the Tata group in India was in talks with Singapore Airlines (SIA) to merge their loss-making Vistara airline with the debt-ridden Air India acquired by Tata.

Tata officially acquired the Indian national carrier, Air India, in January last year. Tata was asked to buy the perennial debt-ridden airline after the Modi government decided that the Indian government could not support Air India any longer. It had been making losses for more than a decade, since 2007. In fact, the Modi government revealed that Air India was incurring losses of nearly US$2.6 million every day. It only remained operational due to the continuous bailouts by the Indian government.

According to a former executive director of the airline, Air India “suffered for its inconsistent service standards, low aircraft utilisation, dismal on-time performance, antiquated productivity norms, lack of revenue generation skills and unsatisfactory public perception”.

Tata was reported to have paid nearly US$2.4 billion and taken on additional mountains of Air India’s debt in order to acquire the failed airline. After Tata took over Air India, it went to talk to its partner SIA, intending to merge their Tata-SIA joint venture company, Vistara Airline, with Air India. Tata owned 51 per cent in Vistara while SIA was 49 per cent and hence, Tata had the final say in Vistara.

Vistara was set up by SIA and Tata in 2013, as SIA wanted to follow Singapore’s former PM Goh Chok Tong’s direction to catch some “Indian fever”.

Subsequently, in November 2022, it was finally reported that SIA, forced by circumstances, decided to invest another S$360 million into the merged Vistara-Air India entity since without the investment, SIA’s share in the merged entity would drop below 20 percent and it might not even get a board seat.

With the injection, SIA was able to get a 25.1 per cent stake and at least a board seat in the enlarged entity while Tata will own 74.9 per cent. The merger is targeted to be completed by next year. With this S$360 million injection into Air India, SIA would have invested almost S$1.3 billion in its airline ventures in India, including its earlier investments in Vistara.

Air India needs more money to buy jets

However, not long after the announcement of the S$360 million injection by SIA, news emerged last December that Air India is close to sealing a “historic order” for up to 500 jets costing US$100 billion from both Airbus and Boeing. The orders include as many as 400 narrow-body jets and 100 or more wide-bodies, including dozens of Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s and 777s, sources said.

The deal ranks among the biggest by a single airline in volume terms, overshadowing a combined order for 460 Airbus and Boeing jets from American Airlines over a decade ago.

It was also reported that SIA might be forced to inject another S$880 million later if Air India decides to tap both its shareholders for additional funds for the purchase of jets. In other words, SIA’s total investment could rise to as much as S$2.1 billion in India.

Defending SIA’s further participation in its airline ventures in India last year, SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong, who took millions of dollars of salary when SIA was making big losses during the Covid period, said that SIA’s partner, Tata group, is one of the most established and respected names in India.

“Our collaboration to set up Vistara in 2013 resulted in a market-leading full-service carrier, which has won many global accolades in a short time,” he said.

“With this merger, we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Tata and participate directly in an exciting new growth phase in India’s aviation market. We will work together to support Air India’s transformation programme, unlock its significant potential, and restore it to its position as a leading airline on the global stage.”

In any case, if SIA does not have enough funds to inject into its India airline venture at any time, it could always launch a new rights issue to raise more funds from its shareholders. Presently, Singapore-owned Temasek Holdings is the major shareholder of SIA.

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