The absence of a business class section on an all-economy aircraft was at the heart of the Air India’s high-decibel altercation with Shiv Sena’s Member of Parliament Ravindra Gaikwad in March this year. Air India, which at the time went on to ban Gaikwad from flying as proof of its resolve to penalise unruly behaviour by air passengers, has now decided to reconfigure all of its single-class narrow-body aircraft in order to introduce the business class option in each of them, a senior company official said.
To do this, the flag-carrier would convert the first three rows of the all-economy class aircraft to business class by having 12 seats in a configuration of two-by-two, compared with three-by-two in the current configuration that add up to 18 economy seats. The official said that of the 14 aircraft, Air India has already reconfigured the seat layout of five. Of the remaining nine, three are leased planes, for which permission has been sought from lessors to go ahead with the exercise. “We expect the approval from the lessors to come soon, and the whole exercise of converting all the 14 aircraft will be completed by the end of this month,” he added.
When contacted, Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar confirmed the development. “We have 14 aircraft, which are with all-economy seats. Our business class passenger group is increasing rapidly, so we decided to convert first three rows to business class,” he said.
The official quoted earlier said that to remove and install new seats, Air India would have had to get a nod from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which would have taken time. To complete the process sooner, instead of removing the economy class seats and installing business class seats, the airline is simply putting armrests on the middle seat and putting a seat and cloth over the remaining part of the middle seat and aisle, or window seats.
While the passengers of this class will enjoy more seat width and the services offered will be different that those for economy class, the legroom for both will end up being the same. Air India had initially proposed the idea to do away with its single-class configuration around two years back, but this proposal was put in cold-storage. It was then revived in the aftermath of the March incident. The official said that the economics of the new layout would remain the same even after the reconfiguration. The fare for every three seats in each row will be divided by two to set the fare for the two business class seats.
Even as the ban on Gaikwad was lifted later, the incident catalysed the debate of addressing unruly behaviour on-board aircraft and in airports. The Centre, soon after the episode, began working to prepare norms for a no-fly list.
After the Gaikwad incident, in June, Telugu Desam Party MP J C Diwakar Reddy, was involved in a verbal spat with the ground staff of a private airline at Visakhapatnam airport, and allegedly threw a printer when he was told that boarding for his flight had been closed. Reddy was also prohibited by airlines from flying, but the ban was lifted.