Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot dropped the ball and returned five passengers who hold dual nationality (U.S. & India) back to Delhi after their connection flight from Moscow to New York cancelled.
The passengers would have exceeded the maximum transit time limit and Aeroflot staff decided to get rid of ‘the problem’ aka the passengers by putting them on the next flight back to India.
According to reports online the passengers held dual nationality of both India and the United States, having checked in at Delhi Airport using their Indian passports which might have lead up to confusion on the part of the customer service agents in Moscow.
You can access more details at The Independent (see here).
The Americans were travelling from Delhi to the US on 7 January but were stranded during a stopover in Moscow when their connecting flight to JFK International Airport was cancelled due to heavy snow in New York.
Aeroflot told them there were no available seats on alternative flights and they would not be provided with any accommodation in Moscow. …
The Asian American passengers were also denied transit visas, meaning under Russian law they could not leave Sheremetyevo Airport or remain in the country for longer than 24 hours.
An Aeroflot employee told the group they instead had to “go back to India” on a later flight or face being forcibly “deported” to India by Russian officials, according to a formal complaint filed by lawyers acting for the passengers.
The complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation can be found here.
But there is more to this story as I assumed immediately when I read the headline:
The passengers rang the US embassy in Moscow and were told “it would be illegal for Aeroflot to deport United States citizens to third countries against their will”, the complaint reads.
It adds: “Although the officer on duty at the embassy repeatedly asked to speak with Aeroflot to correct the situation, Aeroflot employees refused to speak with him, instead reiterating their threat that the passengers would be deported and that if they did not return to India, Aeroflot would ‘make matters worse’ for them — including through criminal deportation and heavy fines.”
It’s very obvious that as so often this airline worker lied to the passengers from beginning to end. Nobody was deported here, only officials working for the immigration department at the airport have the authority to issue a deportation order.
Rule number one I tell people every time is: Do NOT and under no circumstances trust airline employees, especially in such situations. Many of them will lie, cheat and do everything in their power to get rid of a customer. In this case it was once again a completely and utter lie, especially the fact that the passengers would have committed a crime and having to pay penalties.
There was nobody in this party who committed any crime that is related to that specific situation. Obviously the Aeroflot employees scared the passengers into returning to India voluntarily.
I’m more than surprised that the duty officer of the U.S. Embassy didn’t recommend the passengers to demand speaking to a Russian immigration official. The information that deportation to a third country is illegal is also incorrect, respectively India isn’t a third party in this case since it’s the passengers origin. Immigration officials can deport arriving passengers back to the country of the arriving flights origin if the individual is found inadmissible. For example, If I arrive as a German citizen on a flight ex Japan in the U.S. such as LAX and deemed to be inadmissible then immigration would send me back to Japan, not to Germany. Usually on the same aircraft I arrived on if it’s still at the airport.
Aeroflot told The Independent: “We clearly fell short of our customary high standards of service in this incident, which occurred more than two months ago, and indeed we contacted the passengers immediately afterwards to offer our apologies. However, our thorough internal investigation established that this was not a case of discrimination based on appearance, and we do not accept this characterisation in the complaint.”
Bogus but seriously, does anybody care about what Aeroflot ‘customer relations’ thinks about the case? I wouldn’t respect any truthful reply from them to begin with after this episode.
I have called the airport police and in one case immigration officials on airline employees many times when it was clear that they were abusing their position in any way, committing a crime by intimidating / threatening the passenger. Don’t be afraid of talking to officials, if you can state your case in a calm and reasonable manner you will see how quickly situations change. These agents aren’t used of having the authorities called on them by passengers if the situation goes sour.
I read as well that these passengers used their Indian passport to check in at Delhi Airport while also holding U.S. passports. This could have thrown some Aeroflot people off as far as handling during irregular operations go. In any case there was zero justification for this at the end of the day and involving the relevant authorities would have certainly helped here. Moscow SVO is the same airport where Edward Snowden lived for weeks in this same airport terminal and transit hotel, just to put things in perspective. Aeroflot has a special hotel with sealed floors where people are accommodated when they have a forced overnight due to irrops.