Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer
It’s been a turbulent time in the skies. Several incidents of shocking behaviour by flyers have come to light, the most high-profile one being that of 35-year-old Shankar Mishra urinating on a senior citizen aboard an Air India flight from New York to Delhi on November 26, 2022. But there have been other incidents, ranging from a mid-air brawl over a reclined seat to another man urinating on a woman to uncouth behaviour with air-hostesses. Indian flyers haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in the past few months.
Why are such incidents on the rise and what is being done about them? A couple of things seem to emerge. First, airlines aren’t doing the right thing or they’re delaying their actions for no good reason.
In the Shankar Mishra case, Air India is said to have reported the incident to the Indira Gandhi International Airport police more than a month later, only on December 28. Instead of reporting the matter immediately and having Mishra arrested after he urinated on the 75-year-old woman from Karnataka, the Air India cabin crew is said to have tried to mediate to “resolve” the matter. It’s unclear if the Air India CEO was informed or whether he did nothing despite being informed.
Shocked and disappointed, the woman finally wrote to Tata Group Chairman N Chandrasekaran.
Meanwhile, the filing of police cases and action against those indulging in bad behaviour on flights is surprisingly low.
Mishra was finally arrested on January 7, 2023, after cases were registered under IPC sections 294 for committing an obscene act, 354 for outraging a woman’s modesty, 509 for act intended to insult a woman’s modesty, 510 for misconduct in public under the influence of alcohol, and other sections of the Aircraft rules (1937).
Astoundingly, only days after this incident, on December 6, 2022, something nearly identical occurred. A drunken man urinated on a woman’s blanket on a New York- Delhi Air India flight, on the Paris-Delhi sector. The pilot reported the matter to the Air Traffic Control at Indira Gandhi International Airport and the man was apprehended upon landing. But no case was lodged against the man because the passengers reached a “mutual compromise”.
In May 2022, a woman said a fellow passenger grabbed her, tried to pull her into his arms and kept touching her face onboard a New York-Delhi flight. A case was registered against IPC sections 354 for assault or criminal force to women to outrage modesty and 354 B for assault or criminal force to any woman or abets such act with the intention of disrobing a woman. In this case, too, nothing happened because a court accepted a cancellation report after the woman refused to record her statement before a magistrate.
The other infamous incident was of a brawl on a Bangkok-Kolkata Thai Smile flight after a passenger refused to straighten his reclining seat. A video of the incident went viral and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security began an inquiry. An FIR was registered against two flyers by the Bidhannagar City Police in Kolkata.
Sometimes, the cabin crew, stressed by the behaviour, also lose their cool. On an Indigo Istanbul-Delhi flight on December 16 last year, an airhostess, incensed by the way a passenger spoke to the crew, told him that cabin crew are not his servants. She lost her cool after the passenger’s actions made a crew member cry.
On July 15, 2022, the Delhi Police registered a complaint against social media influencer Bobby Kataria for smoking a cigarette on board a Spicejet flight. Kataria recorded a video of himself smoking and posted it online. He was later arrested.
As you can tell, it’s a seemingly endless list of offenders who reveal their true nature once in the air.
An alarmed Directorate General of Civil Aviation recently issued an advisory to airlines underscoring the responsibility of the captain, crew and director of in-flight services in such situations.
Under the norms, the captain must file a complaint, to be investigated by an internal panel, if a passenger gets unruly. The panel must decide the matter within 30 days and the airline can ban the flyer for this period. If the panel fails to decide within that time, the passenger is free to fly again.
Under the Aircraft Act (1937), the pilot-in-command is responsible for the safety of the passengers and the maintenance of flight discipline. It is for him or her to assess the situation quickly, decide if the cabin crew can manage the situation and relay this to the airline’s central control on the ground for further action. The advisory said: “…upon landing of the aircraft, the airline representative will lodge an FIR with the concerned security agency at the aerodrome, to whom, the unruly passenger shall be handed over.”
The advisory goes so far as to recommend restraining devices if all conciliatory approaches have been exhausted.
It seems that Indians are not the only offenders. Globally, such incidents seem to be on the rise. In the West, there have been instances of passengers yelling, kicking seats and even getting violent on flights.
Interestingly, some mental health professionals blame post-COVID trauma. They say passengers are unable to process what happened during the pandemic, which may have had lasting effects on them – such as economic setbacks. The pandemic also took a huge toll on people’s mental health, and this hasn’t been addressed fully. The pandemic caused dread, social isolation and uncertainty – all of which haven’t fully gone away. This could be what causes passengers to snap.
People with a history of aggressive behaviour are more likely to behave this way but much depends on the individual’s stress levels and their ability to manage it.
That is not to say, of course, that offenders should be let off. Bad behaviour must be dealt with strictly and visibly to warn other potential offenders.
Cabin crew, of course, bear the brunt of it. They are required to make snap decisions in case of unruly behaviour. Often, those decisions turn out to be the wrong ones – as we saw in the Shankar Mishra case when they chose to contain the issue rather than get the cops and regulator involved.
The solution, then, is for airlines, the DGCA and the police to work out procedures for how to deal with such flyers and to ensure the staff are properly trained to implement it. Passengers must be made aware of the consequences of poor behaviour on flights too. So, along with safety instructions, they should be advised about this on every flight.
Nobody wants an unpleasant experience while flying. For too long, disruptive behaviour in the air has invited little more than a slap on the wrist. If all the stakeholders – airlines, DGCA, the police and the passengers – show responsibility, no one needs to have the proverbial hard landing.
Thank you all for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at email@example.com. Catch you again soon.