"AI 123, Delhi-Milan returned to Delhi due to (a) suspected rat sighting," an airline official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Friday. "The presence of the rodent was not confirmed, but keeping passenger safety in mind, the aircraft was brought back."
The aircraft was over Pakistan when some of the nearly 200 passengers and crew members spotted a rodent in the cabin. The airline said that even though no rodent had been found, it had no choice but to turn back and fumigate the aircraft after the report.
Rats pose a serious threat to the safety of flights as they can chew through wires and damage internal controls. They often hitch rides on food catering trucks that store the flight meal trays.
The troubled airline has suffered rodent problems in the past.
An Air India domestic flight was reportedly grounded in May in the northern town of Leh after crew spotted rats scurrying around the plane, AFP reported. Another plane was grounded at Delhi airport last August when staff complained of a rat infestation.
In an unrelated matter, the Indian aviation regulator removed the Air India's safety chief Friday for his failure to maintain flight records, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
The state-run carrier, which has not reported an annual profit since 2007, has been hit by a string of technical glitches and other embarrassing incidents, including staff turning up late for flights, AFP reported.
Earlier this month, two Air India employees were arrested over their involvement in a people-smuggling operation at New Delhi airport.
In April, two of the airline's pilots got into a fight just before takeoff.