Time for zero tolerance on “air rage”, drunk, and lewd passengers in the Indian skies

The recent “hijack” incident involving Indigo airlines flight 6E344 from Goa to New Delhi, has created the furore all over India, and even on to the international stage.

I am glad, Jitendra Kumar Mohala, a 42-year-old chartered accountant, and son of a retired air commodore of the Indian Air Force, has been booked under sections 336 (endangering life and personal safety of others) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, as well as Suppression of Unlawful Act Against Safety Of Civil Aviation Act, 1982, which is non-bailable. Now let us hope the authorities throw the book at him.

In the last 15 days alone, there have been three other reported instances of passengers creating trouble on board an aircraft.

  • January 14th. An Air India passenger, Valli Panikker (42) got so drunk on the flight that he started abusing and misbehaving with fellow passengers, and hit two cabin crew members on board a New York-Mumbai flight. He was handed over to Mumbai police after the plane landed. Penalty ? Rs. 1,200 fine. News report here.
  • January 30th. A 72-year-old man, on a Chennai-Delhi flight, was completely drunk and started groping some women and tried to ‘feel up’ some of the stewardesses. Penalty ? He was de-planed. As per a police official at Chennai “As he was an aged man, the crew decided to not file a complaint against the man. We warned him not to repeat such activities and let him leave after some time.” News report here.
  • January 30th. A passenger, Prashant Imene, on board a Jet Airways London-Mumbai flight, molested a woman co-passenger, assaulted the cabin crew and hurled cuss words at them, threatened to throw his passport out of the window (I wonder how, at 30,000ft), tore his boarding pass, threw water on a flight attendant’s face and hit an elderly passenger with a spoon. He was not drunk. Penalty ? The police booked him for outraging the modesty of a woman, threatening and assaulting. He was produced in court on January 31st. Sentence unknown. News report here.
  • February 1st. Jitendra Kumar Mohala, 42, passenger on board Indigo 6E 344 misbehaved with an stewardess over some issue and threatened her, saying that he was armed. He said he had two accomplices on the board and they would hijack the plane. He also said that he was official of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and will inspect the plane. Penalty ? Let us see what develops.

Outside this 15 day window,

  • July 12, 2008, a drunk Kuwaiti national, Bilal Ahmed, 40, forced a Doha to Bangkok Qatar Airways flight. to make an emergency landing in Mumbai. Sources said his hands and feet had to be tied together to bring him under control. The Mumbai police meekly returned Bilal Ahmed to Doha on the very next Qatar Airways flight, instead of meting out any punishment.

Airlines, including those in India, hire attractive young ladies as customer service and cabin crew to inject glamour in to an otherwise tiresome travel experience. The Singapore Airlines’ “Singapore Girl” is renowned globally. Virgin Airlines is considered “Still Red Hot” with its glamorous red uniformed female cabin crew, a theme followed by Kingfisher airlines in India. The crews of Jet, Indigo, SpiceJet, and some in Air India, are no less, in the glamour quotient.

Indian air crews, particularly, females, have to put up with troublesome passengers some who are over-aggressive, often hostile, many times drunk and lecherous, believing that the stewardess is their personal property to grope, fondle and abuse.

In the land where ‘Devi’, the female goddess, is worshipped, this lack of respect for women in the air, is utterly disgusting.

It is not just passengers, just yesterday (February 3rd), in a most shocking incident, an Andhra Pradesh Home Guard attached to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, B Vinod Reddy, was arrested for eve-teasing some girl students and then beating up their male classmate when he attempted to intervene and get Reddy to stop. Reddy was finally arrested and charged under sections 323 (Voluntarily causing hurt) and 509 (Insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code, after the students went on a protest at the airport.

Despite India having the laws under the Indian Penal Code, and being a signatory to all United Nations’ conventions and treaties covering civil aviation, recent incident indicate a pattern of not levying punishment.

Compare the minor penalties in India, to the penalties in the United Kingdom which mandates a penalty of £5,000 or 2 years’ imprisonment. In the United States, criminal penalties are a fine of up to US$ 11,000 or 20 years imprisonment, civil penalties aside.

India has to enforce its laws, and severely punish offenders, only then, will passengers learn to control their mouths, their hands, and their behaviour.

What also surprises me is the lack of complaints from the airlines or the crews. I refuse to accept that a stewardess is not disgusted to the point of making a complaint, after being groped, abused, or ‘felt-up’. An airline looses a lot of money by making emergency landings, and looses the goodwill of passengers who have to put up with a horrible experience.

It is time for all of us to stand firm with a “zero tolerance” policy against these maniac passengers, and also empower the crew by supporting their complaints. Otherwise, we risk the typical knee-jerk reaction, one can expect from the government — to ban serving of alcohol on board any flight, which will only inconvenience 99.9% of passengers instead of punishing the offending 0.1%, and still leave cases like Prashant Imene (who was not drunk) and Jitendra Kumar Mohala (who drank before the flight) un-addressed.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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