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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Minister on road, plane in the sky

Calcutta, Sept. 7: Indian aviation has broken free of the Maharajah mindset, at least for a day.

A Jet Airways flight scheduled to ferry civil aviation minister Praful Patel to Calcutta left Delhi without him today as he was late in reaching the airport.

The flight took off from the capital apparently with the concurrence of Patel who was caught in a traffic jam.

The airline’s action as well as the minister’s reaction are rare occurrences in the country where thousands of passengers have been at the receiving end of VIPs holding up servile — and often state-run — carriers.

Patel was booked on the Delhi-Calcutta Jet Airways flight, 9W 922, scheduled to take off at 9.45am.

“The minister started for the airport on time. But he was stuck in a traffic jam caused by a college event and knew he would not make it in time for the Jet flight. So he had to change to an Air Deccan flight that left shortly after Jet,” a civil aviation ministry official in Delhi told The Telegraph.

A Jet Airways official said the airline got in touch with the minister when it became apparent that he would be late. “Since he was stuck in traffic, we decided to take off after informing him,” the official said in Calcutta. “The minister appreciated this (the airline’s punctuality record) and took it in good spirit.”

The flight took off on time and reached Calcutta at noon. Patel took the Air Deccan flight, DN 702, and landed soon after.

The minister came to speak at a convention of the All India Management Association and the Asian Association of Management Organisations. He later met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings.

At the airport, officials waiting for their boss with bouquets were almost caught unawares by the minister’s change of plans. Senior airport officials were waiting at the terminal from 11.30am to receive Patel. “An aerobridge was allotted for the Jet flight. This is a common practice for VIPs,” an official said.

However, shortly before the arrival of the Jet flight, the officials came to know that Patel was travelling on Air Deccan.

“We asked Air Deccan officials here but they initially told us the minister was not on the flight. A few minutes later, they confirmed that the minister was their passenger,” the official added.

The authorities then hurriedly arranged an aerobridge for Air Deccan.

The accidental switch helped the minister have a ring-side view of the revolution in the skies. “I travelled on an Air Deccan flight today and was happy to see the change in profile of passengers,” Patel later said.

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