Kunal Kamra vs Arnab: What Are the Rules on Flight Bans in India?
DGCA’s Civil Aviation Requirements say an Internal Committee has to review unruly behaviour and decide punishment.
As the controversy over comedian Kunal Kamra’s confrontation of news channel Republic editor Arnab Goswami continues to rage, one of the key questions to be asked at this point is whether the six-month flight ban imposed on Kamra by airline IndiGo, on whose flight the incident occurred, is valid or not.
Following IndiGo’s decision to ban Kamra from flying on any of their flights, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri advised other airlines to take similar action, and most domestic airlines have complied. Air India, GoAir and SpiceJet have all issued public statements saying they are suspending Kamra from flying with them “till further notice.”
Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the rights and wrongs of Kamra’s conduct, it is essential that we understand whether or not these decisions by IndiGo and other airlines followed relevant rules – restrictions on the freedom to travel in India have to be in accordance with the law and cannot be imposed on any arbitrary basis.
IndiGo’s Contract of Carriage
As IndiGo is a private carrier, the first place to check regarding rules on conduct and bans would be their own contract with passengers and the terms and conditions they specify.
These are publicly listed on IndiGo’s website in the ‘Conditions of Carriage’ .
Condition 15 deals with conduct on-board an IndiGo aircraft, which says that if a customer endangers the aircraft or causes any discomfort to any person on board, obstructs the crew or fails to comply with the crew’s instructions, then the airline can “take such measures as it deems reasonably necessary to prevent continuation of such conduct, including restraint.”
While this condition notes that the passenger can be made to get off the flight and may be prosecuted for any offences, it says nothing about banning them in the future. Upon a review of the other Conditions of Carriage, The Quint was unable to find any provision for banning of a passenger.
The DGCA’s Civil Aviation Requirements
Over and above the contract between an airline and a passenger, there are Indian laws that deal with the way in which airlines can operate, which grant the Civil Aviation Ministry and its organs the power to make regulations on several issues, including the regulation of conduct that can endanger the safety of an airplane.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has developed a number of regulations and guidelines for this purpose, including the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR).
Section 3 of the CAR deals with rules on ‘Air Transport’. On 8 September 2017, the DGCA set out the process to be followed for dealing with ‘unruly passengers’.
This 2017 CAR allows airlines to create ‘No-Fly Lists’ to deal with passengers who behave in an unruly manner. This includes using threatening or abusive language towards the crew or other passengers, behaving in a physically threatening manner or intentionally interfering with the crew’s work.
CATEGORIES OF UNRULY BEHAVIOUR
Paragraph 4.10 of this CAR creates different categories on ‘unruly behaviour’ onboard an aircraft, based on how serious the misconduct is.
- Level 1: Unruly behaviour (physical gestures, verbal harassment, unruly inebriation etc);
- Level 2: Physically abusive behaviour (pushing, kicking, hitting, grabbing or inappropriate touching or sexual harassment etc);
- Level 3: Life-threatening behaviour (damage to aircraft operating systems, physical violence such as choking, eye gouging, murderous assault, attempted or actual breach of the flight crew compartment etc)
Unless someone has been identified as a national security threat by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the airlines’ response to any ‘unruly behaviour’ by them depends on which category their conduct falls into.
PROCESS FOR REPORTING UNRULY BEHAVIOUR AND IMPOSITION OF FLIGHT BANS
Paragraph 6 of the 2017 CAR describes the process to be followed by an airline for putting someone on a ‘No-Fly List’.
Any complaint of unruly behaviour has to be made by the pilot-in-command of the flight in question to the airline. This is then to be referred to an Internal Committee.
All airlines are supposed to have an Internal Committee for this purpose, which is supposed to be made up of:
- A retired District and Sessions Judge as its Chairperson;
- A representative from a different airline as a Member;
- A representative from a passengers’ association or consumer association or a retired consumer disputes forum officer as a Member.
Once the Internal Committee receives a complaint, it has 30 days to decide whether the passenger’s conduct falls within Levels 1, 2 or 3, and how long the passenger should then be banned for. If the Committee fails to make a decision by the time 30 days are up, then the passenger will be free to fly.
Till such time as the Internal Committee makes its decision, the airline can impose a suspension or an interim ban (so to speak) against the person in question, but this can only be for a maximum duration of 30 days.
If the Internal Committee decides to ban the passenger, the passenger’s details have to be added to the airline’s database, and they need to inform the DGCA and other airlines about this.
The DGCA will maintain a No-Fly List with details about a passenger banned by all airline – contact details, identification documents and flight details which are part of this list may be shared with other airlines but are not to be made public.
HOW LONG CAN AN UNRULY PASSENGER BE BANNED FOR?
The length of a flight ban under the 2017 CAR also depends on which category of unruly behaviour the passenger’s conduct falls into.
- Level 1: Up to three months;
- Level 2: Up to six months;
- Level 3: At least two years.
Was the Process Under the 2017 CAR Followed by Airlines Banning Kunal Kamra?
There are several questionable aspects about the flight ban imposed on Kamra by IndiGo and the other airlines, particularly because of the incredibly quick timeline here – IndiGo banned him around four hours after he posted a video of the incident just after landing in Lucknow.
Did the pilot of flight 6E-5317 (the flight on which the incident happened) make a complaint to the airline regarding this information?
Was this complaint referred to the Internal Committee as specified in the CAR?
Did the Internal Committee recommend the six-month flight ban for Kamra? This is important because only the Internal Committee has the power to impose a ban like this – the interim ban the airline can impose is limited at 30 days.
Why was a six-month flight ban imposed on Kamra? The conduct in question was only verbal in nature, which would mean it falls into the Level 1 category of ‘unruly behaviour’ – for which the maximum punishment is a three-month ban.
How have the other airlines banned Kamra from flying with them “till further notice”. Till such time as IndiGo’s Internal Committee makes a decision, they can only ban him for up to 30 days – and even after that, they cannot impose an indefinite ban.
Following a report by HuffPost India which claimed the DGCA director general had agreed that IndiGo’s actions did not appear to be compliant with the CAR. the DGCA has issued a statement refuting the story and saying that the action taken by the airlines is “in complete consonance” with the relevant 2017 CAR.
Interestingly, both this statement and another issued to the Press Trust of India, say that:
“Now the matter is to be referred to the internal committee as prescribed in para 6.1 of the said CAR. Further, as per para 6.4 of the CAR, the internal committee is to give the final decision in 30 days by giving the reasons in writing, which shall be binding on the airline concerned.”
The Quint has reached out to IndiGo for a comment on the procedure followed when imposing the flight ban. This story will be updated with their comments when received.
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