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Opinion: Air India should prosecute unruly passengers

That Indian politicians and their cohorts make unreasonable demands of the national carrier Air India is a well known fact. But now, it appears this disease is afflicting the common passenger as well.

Last week some of the 50 passengers on board Air India’s flight AI-433, a 250km 20 minute hop from Gaya to Varanasi, went on a rampage clashing with the cabin crew while in-flight. After the flight landed at Varanasi, the passengers continued their protest, demanded their fare back, and delayed the onward flight to New Delhi for over 1.5 hours. The reason? They were only served tea and biscuits on this 20 minute flight instead of a “proper” breakfast. What elaborate meal were these passengers expecting on flight that barely flies level for about a minute or two? I am impressed that the Air India crew managed a hot beverage service on so short a flight. Forget the fact this flight was at 4 pm in the afternoon, and breakfast is served in the morning, though I suspect the Hindi word ‘nashta’ which refers to both the afternoon high-tea as well as breakfast is the reason behind the wrong choice of meal in media reports.

In another incident, due to a lack of Cat III certification by Indian aviation regulator the DGCA, an Air India 787 Dreamliner flight from Dubai to New Delhi was diverted to Mumbai due to poor visibility. Media reports quoting airline sources say an unruly passenger on board who misbehaved with the flight attendants tried to open the door of the aircraft after it had landed in Mumbai. The passenger was offloaded along with his two friends and handed over to the Central Industrial Security Force, but no police complaint was filed.

In 2010 after a spate of incidents involving unruly and drunk passengers, the DGCA, added rules 22 and 23 to the Aircraft Rules which govern Indian civil aviation. These two rules specifically focussed on drunk and unruly passengers who threaten the safety of the aircraft or the crew. Prior to the introduction of these rules, unruly passengers were booked under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but were released on bail almost immediately. With a lengthy court procedure, manpower constrained airlines generally did not pursue further action, resulting in the perpetrator going free.

So why is Air India not using these rules and prosecuting unruly passengers who threaten the safety of their aircraft, their crew, and their other law-abiding passengers? The Varanasi incident has made the news all the way in Ireland, and threatens to derail the already fragile customer perception of the airline.

Air India is due to join the Star alliance and a global level of service will be demanded of the airline; and this includes an incident free flight. Till hooligan passengers do not fear prosecution, they will continue indulging in their unruly behaviour. The time has come for the national carrier to follow the lead of the private carriers, show some back-bone and prosecute these ruffians to the fullest extent of the law.

However, the airline management will have to protect its staff who might face the brunt of some of these hooligans who are “connected” to politicians and other powers that are.

Share your thoughts via a comment.

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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