Since 2003, Indian Airlines/ Alliance Air Network has provided free lifetime air travel to all Bharat Ratna awardees. However, according to , Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee Amartya Sen is the only awardee to avail this perk and that to 21 times in 4 years.
India Today had filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with Air India to know when the central government decided to grant this perk to Bharat Ratna recipients. Responding to their query, Air India said, "...the procedure for issuance of free tickets to Bharat Ratna awardees was circulated by erstwhile Indian Airlines on 25/08/2003." In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was at the Centre.
Air India said Sen availed this facility 21 times from 2015 till 2019. The airlines said the monetary value of his travels could not be ascertained as the "fare prevailing on time and date of travel is not stored”.
Of the 48 people awarded the Bharat Ratna to date and of them, 14 were posthumous awards. “Out of the remaining 34, apart from Sen, there are only three other Bharat Ratna awardees who are still alive -- Lata Mangeshkar (2001), Sachin Tendulkar (2014) and Professor C N R Rao (2014).”
After the report appeared, many took to Twitter riticising the economist for availing this scheme.