We are once again in the theater of the absurd. The erstwhile national carrier has done it again, Tatas or no Tatas.
On 26 November, on an Air India New York (JFK) to Delhi non-stop flight, an inebriated gentleman relieved himself and flashed his private parts before an elderly woman co-passenger. On 6 December, on a Delhi-Paris flight, a man in a similar state relieved himself on the blanket of his co-passenger, again a lady.
Air India's statements post the incidents have led me to an equally absurd conclusion: The airline has taken the blanket more seriously than the lady! Consider this: In the first case, the airline let the offender walk out of the airport and banned him from flying on the airline for 30 days.
In the second one, it isolated the offender on board and had him taken into custody by CISF upon arrival. Subsequently, he, too, was let go. Clearly, the incident where the blanket was soiled was less palatable than the one in which the lady was.
Well, well, well.
Not First of Mid-Air Horrors..
Let me point out here that this is not the first horrific incident on board an Indian or global airline. There have been scarier if not uglier ones. In 2013, a passenger on board a Goa to Delhi IndiGo flight led to a national emergency being declared when he claimed to belong to a terror group and have two associates on board to help him hijack the flight.
The Prime Minister, the Home minister, and all other relevant officials held an emergency meeting in response. It proved to be a false alarm and led to a substantial waste of national resources in terms of time and money.
How Global Airlines Deal With Unruly Fliers
Similar incidents have taken place globally. In April 2008, British Airways banned supermodel Naomi Campbell from flying the airline after a row over some missing baggage, which led to her being arrested. It clearly did not matter that she was famous and a frequent flier with the airline. Unruly incidents and bad form on flights are par for the course and airline staff is usually well-trained to respond in such situations.
Time For Tough Questions
Now question time! 6E (code for IndiGo) must be taking a bow at the moment but the 6Cs have some work to do including responding to DGCA’s detailed show cause notice.
Crew: What were the cabin supervisor and crew thinking ? Why was the victim not offered any available empty seat—I don’t see how class matters in this situation which would allow her to distance herself and recover somewhat from this ugly and unpleasant ordeal. Why did you not treat the lady who presumably must have been traumatised, with more empathy?
Did you realise that this in fact, was a criminal offense not just an uncivil act? What if the perpetrator had held a knife to his co passenger’s throat or if he had sexually assaulted her, would your reaction have been as muted?
Captain: How does one continue calmly flying an aircraft while such drama is unfolding in the cabins? Were you aware that this was a more serious misdemeanor than just bad behavior in a drunken state? Did you advise the crew to treat the victim with kid gloves and empathy? Did you go and meet the victim, leaving your co-pilot to manage for a bit? Who precisely did you report the matter to upon landing? Did you inform the airline security and raise the matter with your superior in line of command? What if the perpetrator had held a knife to his co-passenger’s throat or if he had sexually assaulted or harmed in some manner, would your reaction have been as muted?
Campbell: Did your Executive Director, Operations presumably, next in line of command, rush into your room aghast to inform you of this bizarre incident? What was your next step?
Did you think the incident was so unpleasant that it was best to just cover it up? Were you overwhelmed with so much on your plate that it seemed easier to turn a blind eye: it would blow over like the rest of the mini crisis you face daily? Did you consider filing a police report at this stage? You are new to India and unfamiliar with its rules and laws but did anyone around you point out that this falls in the category of a criminal offense? Where, Mr Campbell, do we go from here?
Chandra: Dear Mr Chandra, where do we go from here? Admittedly, none of this is your doing but you do face the unenviable task of fixing it all. This gigantic bomb lies firmly in your court. Glad not to be in your shoes!
Citizens: Are we going to abandon the use of washrooms on AI flights? I understand that the state of washrooms on the erstwhile national carrier is not something to write home about, but if all of us collectively decide to refrain from using them and do our business in the cabins, the flight might be a trifle smelly.
Country: What kind of society are we becoming? Unless proven to be mentally unstable, what allows any man to think he can get away with this kind of behavior in the air or on ground? Will we hurt or sexually assault co-passengers next and hope to abscond after the act?
Women have been chopped up, run over and dragged under cars and perhaps, the most dehumanising, urinated upon by men in the last few months. My fellow mitron, we do have some questions to answer, especially, some vice presidents amongst us!
At Least One Answer Can Be Offered For Now
Finally, I will offer one answer. How best to deal with the absconder. First, we make him undergo a mental examination at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).
Drunk or not, this reeks of mental illness. If he is declared by experts of sound mind, I suggest in addition, to a short stint in one of Mumbai’s jails, Campbell Wilson and all other airline CEOs could do well to take a leaf out of the book of former SouthWest CEO Herbert D Kelleher.
Several years ago, Herb was asked to respond personally to a frequent critic who was unhappy with virtually every aspect of her flight experience. After going through her repeated letters, the CEO replied to the woman, referred to internally as “Mrs Crabapple,” with the following note: “Dear Mrs Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.” With a lifelong ban on all flights, let Mr Vice President discover the unbidden joys of all other forms of travel.
(Anjuli Bhargava is a senior writer and columnist based in Goa. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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