Sometimes, our regulators take themselves too seriously. They need to lighten up. Jet Airways suspending its cabin crew after they allowed Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam take over the aircraft cabin PA system is a case in point.
The incident happened on 4 January, when the singer was traveling from Jodhpur to Mumbai. When co-passengers urged him to sing for them, Nigam obliged. He took over the mic of the cabin PA system and belted out a couple of hits . Thus, what would have otherwise been a boring flight was turned into an impromptu music concert that everyone enjoyed.
The videos of his performance went viral, but the stodgy blokes at the DGCA were neither amused nor entertained. According to the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) on training and licensing of cabin crew, issued by the DGCA in 2010, “the PA (public address) system and interphone system are tools for relaying safety information.” The regulator demanded action against the erring cabin crew and Jet Airways responded on Friday by suspending all five members of the cabin crew and sending them for “re-training”.
Sonu Nigam expressed shock over the suspension and called it intolerance. He said in a statement, “I have witnessed an elaborate fashion show in an aircraft. I have heard of small concerts happening in an aircraft. I have seen pilots and crew members cracking humorous jokes to loosen up passengers in other countries, which is so cool. To suspend crew members for asking me to sing on the address system, when the seat belt signs were off, and no announcements were to be made, is nothing less than punishing someone for spreading happiness.”
He concluded, “Indians, need to loosen up. This act of lack of common sense, according to me, is real intolerance.”
Meanwhile, social media has directed its anger towards Jet Airways, which probably had no room to wriggle in this situation. Airlines don’t take on the regulator on issues that can easily be resolved by simply giving in and seeming to take action. Still, there is hypocrisy in suspending just the flight attendants. It is well know that they could have not done this without the consent of the flight crew. So, why weren’t the pilots suspended?
There can be no argument that the safety of passengers and crew are paramount while an aircraft is in the air. But, in almost every airline, safety information is not all that the cabin PA system is used for. Once the flight takes off and the seat belt lights are switched off, cabin crew use it for a variety of announcements, ranging from meal service, beverage service, auctions, sales of duty-free items, and even soliciting for donations to feed hungry children.
Some airlines have fun with the PA system. In the US, Southwest Airlines is a joy to fly because of the way they keep kidding with the passengers . “Don’t leave anything behind, including your children, we’ll just take them home with us,” one attendant announced as we were deboarding. Over the years, Indian airlines such as East West and Kingfisher have organized onboard fashion shows. More recently, in 2015, Finnair’s cabin crew on a flight to India performed a Bollywood-style flash mob to celebrate India’s Republic Day.
It’s not as if all this is done at the expense of flight safety. In the Sonu Nigam case, we must assume that the trained cabin crew was every bit as alert and would have quickly taken over if an emergency had come up. Most airplanes have multiple microphones and if the pilot begins to use his or hers, it automatically overrides all other microphones on the plane. There was probably never any danger that Sonu Nigam using one microphone would mean that emergency announcement could not be made.
The DGCA is clearly within its rights to take action, it owns the rule book. Jet Airways has also done the right thing by taking action. We can only hope that the “re-training” of the flight crew is quickly over and they can return to work. But was this really that big an issue that punitive action was required? Come on DGCA, go out, see the world. And, as Sonu Nigam said, don’t be intolerant.