Abusive Air Passengers Must Be Punished
Vulgar behaviour by men on flight towards co-passengers and crew becoming frequent
The recent incident where a man allegedly urinated on an elderly co-passenger onboard an Air India flight from New York to Delhi on November 26, 2022 has shaken people and has raised questions on the rowdy behaviour by men on flight towards co-passengers as well as cabin crew.
The shocking incident took place when the flight was on its way from John F Kennedy international airport in New York to Delhi. Months later, officials informed the media on Wednesday, that Delhi Police has formed teams to nab the perpetrator.
The Police on Wednesday filed an FIR on the shocking incident based on a complaint by Air India. The accused has been identified as Shankar Mishra.
According to reports and his business profile, Shankar Mishra is the vice-president of the India Chapter of an American multinational financial services company, Wells Fargo, headquartered in California. The police have registered an FIR in the matter under sections 354, 509, 510 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 23 of the Indian Aircraft Act. Both the accused and the victim are from outside Delhi.
An Air India spokesperson in a statement to The Citizen said that the airline has taken a “very serious view of the incident”, where a passenger behaved in an “unacceptable and undignified manner” on the New York-Delhi flight that “caused extreme distress to a fellow passenger”.
Air India officials also said that they committed to assist the law enforcement agencies as well as regulatory authorities.
While the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also launched an investigation, Air India has set up an internal panel to probe whether there were lapses on part of the crew in addressing the situation that caused distress to the woman.
“As a first step, Air India has banned the passenger for 30 days, the maximum it is permitted to unilaterally do so, and reported the matter to the DGCA for further action,” the airline said.
In her letter to the chairman of the Board of Tata Sons, N Chandrasekaran, the woman passenger, who is in her seventies, called the flight experience extremely traumatic and expressed deep disappointment over the incident in the business class section of the flight.
In her letter, the woman said the 'appalling incident' occurred shortly after lunch was served and the lights were switched off, as she was getting ready to sleep. The flight had taken off from John F Kennedy international airport in New York.
She said that within minutes, an inebriated male walked to her seat and unzipped his pants, urinated and continued to expose his private parts until another passenger asked him to return to his seat.
“I am writing to express my deep disappointment regarding the appalling incident that occurred during my business class trip on flight AI102 (commencing in NY, JFK yesterday 26th November at 12.30 pm, and arriving this afternoon in New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport at approximately 1.30 pm).
“This has been the most traumatic flight that I have ever experienced. During the course of the flight, shortly after lunch was served and the lights were switched off, I was getting ready to sleep, and another passenger walked to my seat completely inebriated.
“He unzipped his pants, relieved himself, and continued to expose me to his private parts. The passenger sitting next to me asked him to return to his seat. He did not respond immediately, but after a few moments left the area," the letter read.
The woman passenger, in the letter, also highlighted that when asked for a change of seat, "the airline refused and informed us there were no seats available". She also complained of being allotted a small seat used by the airline staff, by one of the senior stewardesses. She also pointed out that the perpetrator did not face any consequence and walked out the Delhi airport without any worry.
Air India spokesperson to this said that they have constituted an “internal committee to probe lapses” on part of Air India’s crew and address the deficiencies that delayed quick redressal of the situation.
“We are also in regular contact with the aggrieved passenger and her family during the investigation and reporting process,” the statement said.
On the other hand, the National Commission for Women has taken cognisance of the incident onboard the Air India flight in which the inebriated male passenger also flashed his private parts at the elderly woman. The Commission has sought a detailed action taken report in the matter within seven days from the Delhi Police Commissioner.
The incident has created an uproar on social media with shocked users demanding a stern action against the man. Meanwhile, as police search for the perpetrator, another mid-air urination incident has come to the fore.
On December 6, a drunk man allegedly urinated on the blanket of a female passenger on a Paris-Delhi Air India flight. No action was taken as the male passenger gave a written apology, according to officials. The male passenger was apprehended, though. It was not known in which class the passengers were travelling.
The incidents have started a debate on the behaviour of Indian passengers on flights. In one his opinion pieces Indian journalist Vir Sanghvi writes, “The truth is that Indians are the world’s worst passengers. We shove, we push, we treat staff badly, we refuse to obey rules and we treat our fellow passengers with a total lack of respect.”
This comes after two recent incidents that came to light when two videos went viral on social media. One showed a passenger, who called a cabin crew "servant".
The incident came to light when a video went viral on December 16 last year after which the DGCA launched an investigation that happened on IndiGo 6E 12 Istanbul-Delhi and showed a passenger calling a cabin crew member his “servant" amidst a high-pitched argument.
A spokesperson of the airline refused to speak more on the matter and said a statement was already issued earlier. “The crew witnesses this often but I won’t be able to tell you whether concrete action has been taken to tackle such situations,” they added.
In the statement, Indigo had said, “The issue was related to meals chosen by certain passengers travelling via a codeshare connection. IndiGo is cognizant of the needs of its customers and it is our constant endeavour to provide a courteous and hassle-free experience to our customers. We are looking into the incident and would like to assure that customers’ comfort has always been our top priority. We are committed to providing the best experience at all times.”
Meanwhile, another video showed a fist fight on a Thai Smile flight from Bangkok to Delhi. The plane had not even taken off when passengers began assaulting one of their number.
The Thai Smile incident was set off by the refusal of a passenger to put his seat upright during take-off as he is required to do by the regulations that govern air travel all over the world. One of the passengers, the report said, refused to adjust his seat, saying he has a backache.
The crew, the report said, repeatedly requested the passenger and also explained to him the rationale behind adjusting the seat during take-off and landing. They told him that in the case of an emergency, a reclined seat can make evacuation difficult. Also, a reclined seat can make it difficult for the passenger to get into the bracing position recommended for emergency landings.
Despite the repeated requests, the passenger did not comply and remained seated with his seat reclined. He was also told that the crew would be forced to inform the captain if he did not follow the rules.
The passenger, the report said, told the crew that they are free to tell the captain but he would not adjust his seat. Soon, other fliers started complaining about the passenger. One of them got into an argument with him that soon escalated into an assault.
The video shows several passengers ganging up to thrash the passenger who had refused to adjust his seat. The passenger does not hit back and is seen trying to defend himself as the crew and others on the flight try to stop the assault.
The airlines had said in its report that no passenger received any serious injury in the incident. The report further stated that two passengers, who were spotted shooting videos of the assault, were requested to delete them.
The crew's response to the assault raised serious questions regarding the safety of passengers. Despite the full-blown violence, none of the passengers involved were deboarded and the flight continued on its journey. The report is also silent on whether the crew had a response plan if a fight broke out again after take-off.
After the video of the assault went viral. Many on social media said those involved must be put on a no-fly list. The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, which monitors aviation security, has taken note of the incident. "We've taken note of the viral video, which shows a fight between passengers on a Thai Airways flight to Kolkata," said Zulfiquar Hasan, director general of the bureau.
The Citizen reached out to air hostesses from leading airlines in India to understand the issue more clearly. Few said that the crew will never intervene because the higher ups are not supportive. “Many times we even face issues like harassment from the passengers but are not able to say anything. It is mostly because we know the administration will not support us,” Suparna (name changed on request) who has been an air hostess for the past seven years said.
She said that the working conditions in “affordable” airlines is not great and the crew misbehaves regularly. “The Air India incident did not shock me frankly, because we face such incidents regularly,” Suparna, who has mostly worked on domestic flights, said.
She also said that the airlines do not take any action against the miscreants with the fear of losing clients. “But are we not human?” Suparna asked angrily. Due to harsh working conditions and increase in such incidents Suparna had to forcefully resign from the airline.
“I put in my papers two weeks back. Enough is enough,” she said.
On passenger abuse, the airhostess added that there needs to be stringent actions. “They need to be banned from airlines for years only then will these rowdy people understand the situation,” she added.