Mumbai (Agencies): Over 300 Indians who were brought back to India from Egypt on special Air India flights complained that the national carrier had fleeced them, which justified the fares charged from the passengers.

"While I appreciate the effort made by the airline to bring us back to India, I was taken aback when I had to pay Rs.45,000 to fly back," said one of the passengers who returned on Monday.

A total of 600 Indians were flown back to India from Egypt by Air India on two flights. The first plane carrying 320 passengers arrived on Monday. The second plane landed in Mumbai early on Tuesday with 280 Indians on board.

Officials of Air India justified the fares charged from passengers, saying it was an unscheduled commercial operation with no profit and was not an evacuation operation which normally offers subsidised travel.

"The government of India had requested the airline to conduct this unscheduled commercial operation, without making any profits as a flag carrier. This was not an evacuation," said an Air India official.

"We do not have any scheduled flights to Cairo. Our Boeing 747 aircraft which has a capacity of 423 seats, was specially flown to Cairo to bring back those passengers who wanted to return to India. For such an operation there are costs involved and that was recovered," the official added, reiterating that the airline did not make any profits.

The government decided to deploy the flag carrier on what is technically called an unscheduled commercial operation and not an evacuation in which the fares are subsidised, he said.

Since Air India does not fly to Cairo, the one-time costs involved in parking charges, check-in facilities and ground handling during this operation was quite high. In such operations the aircraft has virtually no cargo to supplement the earning from the flight, the official said.

The passengers who took the Air India flights to Mumbai from Cairo also complained about being forced to pay the fare in cash.

They said the ATM at the Cairo Airport did not dispense cash and there was no way they could be carrying the amount in cash.