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'Mistreated, Harassed, Threatened': Indian Flyers Allege Racism by Air France

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

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"They didn’t provide us with any help, rather, they were aggressive and rude. We were unable to eat or sleep, and they were treating us like hordes of animals," said Meera Krishnan, an Indian who was stranded at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport after her Air France flight was grounded for more than 48 hours, told The Quint.

Meera, along with 300 other passengers, was flying back to Toronto from Mumbai and had to catch a connecting flight at the Paris airport. They hoped to arrive in Toronto by night, but even after their Air France flight was delayed and subsequently cancelled, the passengers were unaware of the 48-hour-long airport stay ahead.

Geet, another Indian, who was on her first international trip, told The Quint:

"We felt that we were not being treated appropriately simply because we were Indian. If someone with lighter skin spoke to them, the staff was extremely kind."

The Quint spoke to passengers who spent nearly two days in the Charles De Gaulle airport and alleged that they were discriminated against, mistreated, denied basic amenities and facilities, and made to live in inhospitable conditions.

'Mistreated, Harassed, Threatened': Indian Flyers Allege Racism by Air France

  1. 1. ‘The Flight Left Right in Front of Our Eyes’

    Meera embarked on a journey from Mumbai, India to Toronto, Canada via Paris on Delta Air’s Flight DL-8706 on 23 June 2023.

    Her first flight went according to plan, she landed in Paris at 11:35 am IST (8:05 am CET) after departing Mumbai and was supposed to take a 1 pm connecting flight on Air France FAF0356 on 23 June.

    However, she discovered that her connecting flight to Toronto was cancelled because of a technical snag. Another Indian, Geet, was on her first international visit when she found out that her flight would not take off.

    As Meera, Geet, and close to 300 other passengers began making enquiries to Air France personnel at the Charles De Gaulle’s 2E Terminal, regarding their connecting flight and travel details, Air France personnel reportedly gave some passengers “boarding passes for a Toronto flight to pacify them and then told them later the flight was overbooked.”

    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

    Meera spoke to The Quint and said:

    “They put my boarding pass on standby and said that I have to wait for everybody to board. And only then can I get on the plane, provided they have a seat. I was already worried right there. A few hours later, the flight left right in front of our eyes, and I couldn't do anything, I didn't know when I was going to travel.”

    While the airline “offered alternative flight options, they were unable to secure a seat” for Meera and offered a seat on her original flight, AF0356, that was scheduled for the next day.

    “This essentially left me stranded at the airport, unable to leave the airport without a Schengen visa, forcing me to seek overnight accommodation within the airport premises. But I had no choice, so I accepted the ticket," she added.

    Meanwhile, the direct compensation from Air France’s end included a “compensation voucher” worth € 600 and, which is to be reimbursed by Air France and a meal ticket worth € 15 for the course of the day.

    “What good is €15 at the Paris airport? I don’t understand how they assumed that €15 would be enough for our food and water for the whole day. We had to buy water as well since they ran out almost instantly,” Geet alleged.

    Moreover, Meera told The Quint that the compensation has remained a bone of contention among its aggrieved passengers, and some Twitter users pointed out previous incidents where they were promised compensation, in the form of a redeemable voucher, and did not receive it.

    “This was exactly what happened to us. They will promise you a refund when you file a complaint, but if either your source or destination city is not in the EU, then EU rule doesn't apply, and Air France doesn't give you a penny,” one passenger said.

    “Unfortunately, this did not include actual accommodation or any assistance with the same, leaving me with no choice but to spend € 270 (Close to Rs 24,300) out of my own pocket to secure lodging at an airport hotel for the night.”
    Meera Krishnan

    Meera told The Quint that Air France officials informed her that the only hotel in the Charles De Gaulle terminal 2E, named Yotel, had no empty rooms. However, she added that following her own enquiry at the hotel, she was informed by the staff that not only does the hotel have empty accommodations but that “Air France simply does not want to book a room for passengers.”

    The Quint contacted Yotel at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and while they refused to comment on any directions from Air France, hotel personnel confirmed that there were numerous empty rooms from 23 to 25 June.

    Expand
  2. 2. ‘Indians and Nigerians on One End, Europeans on the Other’

    After spending close to 24 hours at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, Meera made her way to her boarding gate, hoping to catch a flight to Toronto. But to her surprise, Air France personnel informed passengers of further delays and pushed the boarding by an hour every time the time came.

    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.
    As around 300 passengers assembled near the boarding gate, and began asking questions regarding further accommodation and travel details, Air France announced that they will “separate passengers and segregate them between EU passport holders and non-EU passport holders.”

    EU nationals, most of whom belong to Schengen countries, enjoy the right of free movement, allowing them to freely travel to other Schengen countries without the need for border checks.

    In Europe, all countries have agreed to the Schengen agreement apart from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom. However, UK nationals are still allowed free travel with limited restrictions.

    “I could understand that we (as Indian passport holders) cannot enter the country, but they could have provided us with a hotel at the airport – there were many.”

    As passengers, who were not allowed to leave the airport, owing to their non-EU passports, queued at the Air France counter, they realised that another avenue, transit visas, was left unexplored by the airline, even after passengers posed the suggestion to staff at the Charles De Gaulle airport.

    “They sent the EU passport holders outside to house them in hotels near the airport. In such cases, they give transit visas to non-EU passport holders and at least let them, step outside the airport, and live in a hotel for that night. But they didn't do that to us.”

    “Of course, most of us were non-white. We came from Asia and Africa, and being made to stand in a line, segregated, felt insulting. Air France said they didn’t have a ticket for us, said there was no clarity and asked us to leave. They did not even mention a transit visa. When asked, they said they could not provide us with one,” Geet said.

    Expand
  3. 3. ‘Air France Staff Deleted Pictures From My Phone, Threatened Me’

    For the passengers left stranded in the Charles De Gaulle airport, arrangements were made for an overnight stay at Gate K of the airport’s Terminal 2E.

    Meanwhile, describing the conditions, Meera told The Quint:

    "It was a dungeon-like basement where they put out stretchers and provided no blankets either. We had seniors and children with us, who were expected to sleep on stretchers while others found hotels. There was a lack of facilities, and it was not because of lack of resources.”
    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.
    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

    During one of her many waits outside the Air France counter, Meera started clicking pictures of the incident and situation, and to her surprise, was confronted by an Air France staffer who “got up from her desk, came towards me and threatened to take my phone, claiming that photography is not allowed.”

    The staffer further “pressured and cornered” Meera into showing her the images, which Meera preemptively saved to the cloud, and subsequently snatched the phone and deleted the images. But that was not it.

    “She (Air France staffer) was not satisfied and wanted to go through my messages to see if I've sent the images to somebody. At that point, I told her that she’s crossing a boundary and trying to enter my personal contents, but she continued to scream and try to take the phone, before walking away.”
    Meera Krishnan

    Geet corroborated the incident and said, “They were swearing at Meera, trying to threaten and pressure her into deleting the pictures and tried to snatch the phone as well.”

    Once again, Meera waited at the Charles De Gaulle airport, this time, on a stretcher in a cold basement, when she received an email stating that she had received a ticket for an Iceland Air flight to Reykjavík (F1543), which will subsequently fly to Toronto (F1603). However, Iceland remained a Schengen country, making it impossible for Meera to land without a transit visa.

    “After two trips to the terminal, I was informed that I cannot board the flight to Reykjavík since I was a non-EU passport holder. But this is the same reason they didn’t let us leave the airport in the first place. They knew that I am an Indian and had all the information. I fail to understand how someone can do this as a mistake.”
    Meera Krishnan

    Moreover, Meera and her fellow passengers had no clarity regarding the location of their bags. Passengers wondered whether the bags were in Mumbai or Paris, and were concerned about the whereabouts of their luggage if they travelled to Iceland.

    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

    Meera was one of the few passengers who was provided with a flight to Toronto after 48 hours in the airport, and she took off, leaving behind numerous passengers at the Charles De Gaulle airport.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Do Regulations Say & Why Were They Not Followed?: Air France Answers 

    According to Air France's website and travel guide, if your flight is canceled or delayed, you can re-route to your final destination "under comparable transport conditions" or receive "Reimbursement for the part or parts of your journey that were not made, and for the part or parts already made if the flight no longer serves any useful purpose."

    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

    In addition, passengers are entitled to "meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time" and a "hotel accommodation" at no cost.

    Moreover, aggrieved passengers "can choose between compensation offered in non-refundable transportation credit voucher and refundable credit voucher (cash)."

    This would essentially entitle Meera, Geet, and their fellow passengers to €800 in transport vouchers or €600 in cash as compensation. Without asking for their preferences, a few passengers received a "non-refundable transport voucher." Meanwhile, others were left empty handed.

    The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

    The Quint was told that none of the regulations mentioned in Air France's guidelines were followed by the airline over the course of 48 hours.

    An Air France India official told The Quint that multiple teams are investigating the incident, which they confirmed took place due to a technical fault, and a longer statement is awaited.

    During a phone call with The Quint, they said, “Since this is an incident which has not taken place in India, the head office in Paris is investigating it. But since some reports have said that only Indians were stranded, a senior member of the India team has also travelled to Paris.”

    “It was a Schengen visa issue as far as I am aware, I don’t believe there was racism or segregation," they said.

    In a statement on Twitter, Air France said that its flight from Paris to Toronto was cancelled because of a technical glitch and the unavailability of a new aircraft for passengers, which include those who travelled from India to take the connecting flight to Toronto, only to get stranded at Paris airport.

    "We confirm that flight AF356 on June 24, 2023, from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Toronto had to be cancelled due to a technical problem and the unavailability of a new aircraft."

    "Some customers without Schengen visas and therefore not allowed to leave the terminal building were taken care of and assisted by Air France teams, and accommodated in a dedicated area of the airport. Air France sincerely regrets the inconvenience caused by this situation and is doing its utmost to get customers to their final destination as quickly as possible," the airline said.

    The Quint has reached out to the French Embassy in India regarding the incident. This story will be updated once a response is received.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

‘The Flight Left Right in Front of Our Eyes’

Meera embarked on a journey from Mumbai, India to Toronto, Canada via Paris on Delta Air’s Flight DL-8706 on 23 June 2023.

Her first flight went according to plan, she landed in Paris at 11:35 am IST (8:05 am CET) after departing Mumbai and was supposed to take a 1 pm connecting flight on Air France FAF0356 on 23 June.

However, she discovered that her connecting flight to Toronto was cancelled because of a technical snag. Another Indian, Geet, was on her first international visit when she found out that her flight would not take off.

As Meera, Geet, and close to 300 other passengers began making enquiries to Air France personnel at the Charles De Gaulle’s 2E Terminal, regarding their connecting flight and travel details, Air France personnel reportedly gave some passengers “boarding passes for a Toronto flight to pacify them and then told them later the flight was overbooked.”

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

Meera spoke to The Quint and said:

“They put my boarding pass on standby and said that I have to wait for everybody to board. And only then can I get on the plane, provided they have a seat. I was already worried right there. A few hours later, the flight left right in front of our eyes, and I couldn't do anything, I didn't know when I was going to travel.”

While the airline “offered alternative flight options, they were unable to secure a seat” for Meera and offered a seat on her original flight, AF0356, that was scheduled for the next day.

“This essentially left me stranded at the airport, unable to leave the airport without a Schengen visa, forcing me to seek overnight accommodation within the airport premises. But I had no choice, so I accepted the ticket," she added.

Meanwhile, the direct compensation from Air France’s end included a “compensation voucher” worth € 600 and, which is to be reimbursed by Air France and a meal ticket worth € 15 for the course of the day.

“What good is €15 at the Paris airport? I don’t understand how they assumed that €15 would be enough for our food and water for the whole day. We had to buy water as well since they ran out almost instantly,” Geet alleged.

Moreover, Meera told The Quint that the compensation has remained a bone of contention among its aggrieved passengers, and some Twitter users pointed out previous incidents where they were promised compensation, in the form of a redeemable voucher, and did not receive it.

“This was exactly what happened to us. They will promise you a refund when you file a complaint, but if either your source or destination city is not in the EU, then EU rule doesn't apply, and Air France doesn't give you a penny,” one passenger said.

“Unfortunately, this did not include actual accommodation or any assistance with the same, leaving me with no choice but to spend € 270 (Close to Rs 24,300) out of my own pocket to secure lodging at an airport hotel for the night.”
Meera Krishnan

Meera told The Quint that Air France officials informed her that the only hotel in the Charles De Gaulle terminal 2E, named Yotel, had no empty rooms. However, she added that following her own enquiry at the hotel, she was informed by the staff that not only does the hotel have empty accommodations but that “Air France simply does not want to book a room for passengers.”

The Quint contacted Yotel at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and while they refused to comment on any directions from Air France, hotel personnel confirmed that there were numerous empty rooms from 23 to 25 June.

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‘Indians and Nigerians on One End, Europeans on the Other’

After spending close to 24 hours at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, Meera made her way to her boarding gate, hoping to catch a flight to Toronto. But to her surprise, Air France personnel informed passengers of further delays and pushed the boarding by an hour every time the time came.

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.
As around 300 passengers assembled near the boarding gate, and began asking questions regarding further accommodation and travel details, Air France announced that they will “separate passengers and segregate them between EU passport holders and non-EU passport holders.”

EU nationals, most of whom belong to Schengen countries, enjoy the right of free movement, allowing them to freely travel to other Schengen countries without the need for border checks.

In Europe, all countries have agreed to the Schengen agreement apart from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom. However, UK nationals are still allowed free travel with limited restrictions.

“I could understand that we (as Indian passport holders) cannot enter the country, but they could have provided us with a hotel at the airport – there were many.”

As passengers, who were not allowed to leave the airport, owing to their non-EU passports, queued at the Air France counter, they realised that another avenue, transit visas, was left unexplored by the airline, even after passengers posed the suggestion to staff at the Charles De Gaulle airport.

“They sent the EU passport holders outside to house them in hotels near the airport. In such cases, they give transit visas to non-EU passport holders and at least let them, step outside the airport, and live in a hotel for that night. But they didn't do that to us.”

“Of course, most of us were non-white. We came from Asia and Africa, and being made to stand in a line, segregated, felt insulting. Air France said they didn’t have a ticket for us, said there was no clarity and asked us to leave. They did not even mention a transit visa. When asked, they said they could not provide us with one,” Geet said.

0

‘Air France Staff Deleted Pictures From My Phone, Threatened Me’

For the passengers left stranded in the Charles De Gaulle airport, arrangements were made for an overnight stay at Gate K of the airport’s Terminal 2E.

Meanwhile, describing the conditions, Meera told The Quint:

"It was a dungeon-like basement where they put out stretchers and provided no blankets either. We had seniors and children with us, who were expected to sleep on stretchers while others found hotels. There was a lack of facilities, and it was not because of lack of resources.”
The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.
The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

During one of her many waits outside the Air France counter, Meera started clicking pictures of the incident and situation, and to her surprise, was confronted by an Air France staffer who “got up from her desk, came towards me and threatened to take my phone, claiming that photography is not allowed.”

The staffer further “pressured and cornered” Meera into showing her the images, which Meera preemptively saved to the cloud, and subsequently snatched the phone and deleted the images. But that was not it.

“She (Air France staffer) was not satisfied and wanted to go through my messages to see if I've sent the images to somebody. At that point, I told her that she’s crossing a boundary and trying to enter my personal contents, but she continued to scream and try to take the phone, before walking away.”
Meera Krishnan

Geet corroborated the incident and said, “They were swearing at Meera, trying to threaten and pressure her into deleting the pictures and tried to snatch the phone as well.”

Once again, Meera waited at the Charles De Gaulle airport, this time, on a stretcher in a cold basement, when she received an email stating that she had received a ticket for an Iceland Air flight to Reykjavík (F1543), which will subsequently fly to Toronto (F1603). However, Iceland remained a Schengen country, making it impossible for Meera to land without a transit visa.

“After two trips to the terminal, I was informed that I cannot board the flight to Reykjavík since I was a non-EU passport holder. But this is the same reason they didn’t let us leave the airport in the first place. They knew that I am an Indian and had all the information. I fail to understand how someone can do this as a mistake.”
Meera Krishnan

Moreover, Meera and her fellow passengers had no clarity regarding the location of their bags. Passengers wondered whether the bags were in Mumbai or Paris, and were concerned about the whereabouts of their luggage if they travelled to Iceland.

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

Meera was one of the few passengers who was provided with a flight to Toronto after 48 hours in the airport, and she took off, leaving behind numerous passengers at the Charles De Gaulle airport.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Do Regulations Say & Why Were They Not Followed?: Air France Answers 

According to Air France's website and travel guide, if your flight is canceled or delayed, you can re-route to your final destination "under comparable transport conditions" or receive "Reimbursement for the part or parts of your journey that were not made, and for the part or parts already made if the flight no longer serves any useful purpose."

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

In addition, passengers are entitled to "meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time" and a "hotel accommodation" at no cost.

Moreover, aggrieved passengers "can choose between compensation offered in non-refundable transportation credit voucher and refundable credit voucher (cash)."

This would essentially entitle Meera, Geet, and their fellow passengers to €800 in transport vouchers or €600 in cash as compensation. Without asking for their preferences, a few passengers received a "non-refundable transport voucher." Meanwhile, others were left empty handed.

The Quint spoke to passengers who alleged that Air France discriminated against them and denied basic amenities.

The Quint was told that none of the regulations mentioned in Air France's guidelines were followed by the airline over the course of 48 hours.

An Air France India official told The Quint that multiple teams are investigating the incident, which they confirmed took place due to a technical fault, and a longer statement is awaited.

During a phone call with The Quint, they said, “Since this is an incident which has not taken place in India, the head office in Paris is investigating it. But since some reports have said that only Indians were stranded, a senior member of the India team has also travelled to Paris.”

“It was a Schengen visa issue as far as I am aware, I don’t believe there was racism or segregation," they said.

In a statement on Twitter, Air France said that its flight from Paris to Toronto was cancelled because of a technical glitch and the unavailability of a new aircraft for passengers, which include those who travelled from India to take the connecting flight to Toronto, only to get stranded at Paris airport.

"We confirm that flight AF356 on June 24, 2023, from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Toronto had to be cancelled due to a technical problem and the unavailability of a new aircraft."

"Some customers without Schengen visas and therefore not allowed to leave the terminal building were taken care of and assisted by Air France teams, and accommodated in a dedicated area of the airport. Air France sincerely regrets the inconvenience caused by this situation and is doing its utmost to get customers to their final destination as quickly as possible," the airline said.

The Quint has reached out to the French Embassy in India regarding the incident. This story will be updated once a response is received.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Paris   Discrimination   Air France 

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