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Rs 8 lakh for city flier grounded as US threat

- Panel rejects airline’s ‘LA confidential’ plea

A Calcuttan who had been prevented from boarding a Los Angeles-bound Emirates flight at Dubai in 2011 because of an allegedly confidential US security alert has won Rs 8.24 lakh in compensation from the airline.

Businessman Srikanta Saha, 55, and wife Kalpana were forced to cancel the trip to meet their daughter in the US after the airline said it would allow only the lady to fly. On returning to Calcutta, Saha contacted the US consulate and found out that there was no security alert against him.

The Sahas have since travelled to the US several times without any hindrance.

The state consumer disputes redressal commission gave its verdict on January 8, asking Emirates to pay Rs 4.24 lakh for the business-class tickets that went waste and Rs 4 lakh as compensation for the harassment Saha and his wife suffered.

The couple had reached Dubai by an Emirates flight on August 5, 2011, and were to take a connecting one to Los Angeles when the airline’s security staff told Saha that the US customs and border protection department had issued an advisory naming him while he was on the flight from Calcutta.

“We spent more than two hours at Dubai airport’s business-class lounge but nobody contacted us in that time. It was only when we reached the boarding gate and were about to enter the aerobridge that I was stopped,” Saha told Metro on Monday.

Seeing her husband being taken aside and asked to contact the US consulate, Kalpana too moved out of the boarding queue. When Saha demanded to know why he was considered a security threat, the Emirates security staff said the information was classified. “Take-off was minutes away and they pressured us to decide whether my wife would board or not,” he recounted.

Kalpana decided against leaving her husband alone, so the couple checked into a $200 room at an airport hotel and took the next morning’s flight back home. “We returned on a Saturday and I couldn’t contact the US consulate until Monday. For two days I was in panic,” Saha recalled.

Once the consulate confirmed that the US hadn’t issued any such advisory against him, Saha decided to seek compensation. He first wrote to the airline but it refused to pay anything.

At the state consumer commission, lawyers representing Emirates insisted that the airline acted on the basis of a “confidential” US communiqué. They raised questions about Saha’s passport, saying it was not “machine readable” and should have been replaced. But Saha said he had long been travelling with that passport and had never faced questions.

Consumer court members S. Coari and D. Bhattacharya ruled: “The complainants had to cancel their trip….the complainants are certainly entitled to at least the ticket fares together with some amount of compensation and litigation cost.”

Emirates declined comment on the verdict. “Emirates does not wish to comment on the case,” said a text message sent by a spokesperson for the airline.