Air India Fires Cabin Crew For Attempted Gold Smuggling From London

An Air India crew member was fired this week for attempting to smuggle two gold bars in India. The crew was set to operate flight AI162 from London Heathrow to New Delhi on Tuesday but was caught by customs officials. Let’s find out more about this incident.

Air India Boeing 787
Air India has continued flights to London despite the red list addition in April. Photo: Getty Images

Caught

An Air India crew member was unceremoniously fired for attempting to smuggle gold bars out of London. Sources on Twitter published a copy of the termination letter of the crew member in question, offering further details of the incident.

Details show that the crew member had attempted to smuggle two gold bars through London Heathrow Airport on June 8th in hopes of carrying them on Air India AI162 (London Heathrow to Delhi). However, customs officials in London promptly caught the crew member and reported the infractions to Air India and other relevant authorities.

Air India Planes
While crew members do have several privileges, they remain subject to the same customs rules as everyone else. Photo: Getty Images

Notably, Air India wasted no time in firing the crew member involved in the incident. The termination letter was issued on June 9th, just a day after the incident. The crew member was hired on a fixed-term contract and had been serving in Air India since 21st December 2010.

The employment contract clearly states that any Air India crew found to be “engaged in smuggling or illicit trading of any kind”  can be terminated without prior notice that might be required otherwise.

Recurring issue

While it is always surprising to see crew members engaged in gold smuggling, the issue is fairly common in India. Over 11,000 kilograms of gold has been seized at airports in the last five years, worth a staggering ₹3,122 crores ($427.8 million). According to Moneycontrol, smuggling peaked in 2018-19, with over 2,900kgs seized.

The reason for this dramatic rise in smuggling has been India’s increased customs duty on gold. Duties were increased to 12.5% from 10%, causing a flurry of activity across borders to smuggle gold instead. Destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and others have emerged as hubs due to the lower price of gold there.

Mumbai Airport UK Travelers Quarantine
Authorities have been seizing thousands of travelers every year with illicit gold. Photo: Getty Images

While the smuggling of gold fell sharply in 2020 due to international travel bans, many notable cases emerged. The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka have emerged as huge destinations for gold smuggling, with the government working to unravel complicated supply chains of criminal activities. For now, don’t expect gold smuggling to stop any time soon.

Still flying

While India joined the UK’s infamous red list in late April, the carrier has continued its services. While it halted services for one week, from April 23rd to 31st, it resumed flights on May 1st, albeit at lower frequencies. However, connections to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore remain largely in place despite the ban.

This is because of the large passenger and cargo markets between the UK and India. Even with the red list, thousands of Indians with residence rights can travel to the UK and many wish to return to India as well. Moreover, cargo has been vital in the last few months, making flights essential.

What do you think about Air India’s decision this week? How should India tackle gold smuggling? Let us know in the comments.

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