UNITED Airlines has been selling Hong Kong to New Delhi tickets as part of its much-touted round-the-world service without having secured rights to land in the Indian capital. The news, which industry observers and travel agents expressed shock at learning yesterday, comes as negotiations held this week in India failed to secure landing rights. United had announced its round-the-world flights would begin in mid-December, with 'many' tickets sold since September 16 for the all-important Hong Kong-New Delhi route, an airline salesman said. New Delhi was placed as a key stop-over point in flights to London. The salesman, in trying to sell a ticket, said he was instructed by senior United management to tell travellers and travel agents that approval had been secured for daily services. But United's chances of being granted rights to land at Indira Gandhi International Airport looked increasingly slim, sources said. New Delhi has again refused to make slots available unless state carrier Air India gets access to more cities in the United States. It now flies only to New York. The sources said senior officials with the US government and United met their Air India and Indian government counterparts from Monday to Wednesday and held 'informal' talks on Thursday. They reached no compromise but were due to meet again next month. The US argues the landing rights are covered under the existing Bermuda I agreement, while India claims the deal, signed in 1956, is out of date and has used small print details to thwart United's plans. India has demanded the agreement be re-negotiated but the US had refused to budge. United, increasingly desperate as its launch date looms, faces a situation where it may have to start telling travellers that its booked tickets are worthless. With landing rights unlikely unless the US government backs down, United has offered India's flag carrier a lucrative code-sharing deal to try and salvage what it can of the costly round-the-world routes it bought years ago from Pan Am. It has been trying to revive the now-defunct carrier's routes since 1993 and is now offering to block-book seats on Air India flights in the event that its planned services are still denied by the December launch. The Indian flag carrier, which holds a monopoly on services between New Delhi and Hong Kong and regularly enjoys overbooked flights, has so far refused the offer of block-booking. 'This is appalling,' one travel agent said. She said she would stop selling United tickets for the route until she had proof landing rights had been secured. 'I have booked some passengers on these flights. I've never heard of this type of thing happening ever before. Have they done anything to protect the passenger? 'If they code share with Air India my passengers will not be happy. They think they will be flying on United.' United's Hong Kong sales manager, Lucille Ko, said: 'Our instruction [from head office in Chicago] is to go ahead and sell the tickets. 'The landing rights are still under negotiation and the fares have a remark saying it is subject to government approval.' But, one source said, the airline even gave the impression to Hong Kong Government negotiators that its services were a firm go when the territory agreed to a new air agreement with the US late last month. On September 29, the Economic Services Branch and Washington agreed to the new deal giving Hong Kong airlines access to 14 US cities in return for increased Asian rights for American carriers. It included rights for United to fly to India, provided the country granted slots. United's attempts to launch round-the-world services have run aground several times already. It had tried for a June 5 start-date to New Delhi, later delaying it to October 29 and then again to mid-December. Its first attempt to launch the Hong Kong-New Delhi-London service in February 1993 was aborted because of a pilot dispute that forced the service to be cancelled - again after the airline had sold tickets.