Minister apologises after 3 Air India passengers ordered to get off plane to make way for him

Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju (right) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju (right) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian government minister issued an apology on Thursday after three passengers were ordered off a domestic flight just before take-off last week so he could have a seat.

After facing widespread flak over social media, Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju insisted he was unaware at the time that any passengers had been forced to make way for him and his entourage but he was nevertheless "sorry to those people who were offloaded" from the Air India flight.

"I wasn't aware of the deboarding of passengers and I have already expressed my regret about it," Mr Rijiju told AFP over the phone.

"If I had been aware, I wouldn't have let it happen."

Mr Rijiju blamed the state-run airline, saying it had changed the scheduled take-off time of the flight from Leh to New Delhi, "causing inconvenience to all".

Although there was no immediate confirmation on how many passengers were offloaded, reports put the number at three. There was no immediate response from Air India.

The episode comes after reports earlier this week that an Air India flight to New York was delayed to accommodate the late arrival of Mr Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister of western state of Maharashtra.

Mr Fadnavis later took to Twitter to defend himself against the backlash, saying "the allegation that I forced to delay the flight to New York is false and misleading".

India's Civil Aviation Ministry on Thursday announced that it had sought detailed reports over the two incidents.

"We are awaiting reports on the (two) incidents from Air India," Civil Aviation Secretary R. N. Choubey told the Press Trust of India news agency.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Thursday said that his ministry would submit a detailed report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi hours after his office asked for an explanation "on delay in Air India flights on account of VIP travels in the recent past".

"We have to get to the truth of it, all lines will be examining it and based on that we will give our report," Mr Raju said at a press conference in New Delhi.

He promised to "put in strategies to avoid such incidents" in the future and apologised to "all those who have been inconvenienced".