New Delhi: Passengers on a chartered flight, who knew each other and were probably returning from a wedding, got lucky when Sonu Nigam belted out two of his hit songs mid-air through the flight's public announcement (PA) system. This happened on a Jet Airways' flight on 4 January, more than a month back. And till now, most of us were enjoying the videos clicked by passengers of Nigam lounging against the PA system and singing. But after aviation regulator DGCA has swung into action and grounded five cabin crew members of Jet Airways over this incident alleging safety violations, social media has begun merciless mocking of the DGCA. Which is plain silly, given the issues involved.
Don't get me wrong. I have been a fan of Nigam's singing for many years and would have surely enjoyed the vocal treat, mid-air or anywhere else. But what the DGCA has faulted Jet Airways and this flight's crew for, is serious. A series of violations were committed which may seem frivolous as the flight landed safely. But they are violations and the violators must be punished.
If Nigam wanted to sing, why use the flight's PA system? Why not sing without a mic in hand? During the 2014 Holi celebrations, two pilots of a SpiceJet flight were suspended after the cabin crew performed a dance sequence in the aisle while the flight was mid-air. Of course passengers were clapping and later uploaded videos of this dance on YouTube. Little realising that this jig could have easily become a safety hazard. At that time too, the social media vigilantes had cited numerous foreign airlines where singing, some dancing and other fun activities carry on mid-air.
One must remember that safety is serious business and more so in the times we live in, with numerous external threats to Indian aviation. Aping western airlines is juvenile, we need to take matters a little more seriously when a flight is at 30,000 feet above the ground. In the Jet Aiways' singing incident too, safety concerns were put aside for what appears to be harmless fun but the DGCA has rightfully flagged the issue.
I would tend to agree with the Twitterati on one count though. The DGCA has not been the best of regulators. It sometimes over-reacts to alleged safety violations, is slow and bureaucratic and may be faulted on myriad other counts too. The regulator got into the act a month after the incident happened and here too it must be pulled up for an inexplicable delay. But let us not hand the babus manning the DGCA for doing their job this once. One look at the count of violations the regulator has listed out while suspending the cabin crew and many would agree that action should have been taken. Singing is fine as long as it is done on terra firma and not by using a flight's PA system.
According to DGCA officials, there were a series of safety violations during this singing epissde:
1) The PA system was used for singing when it is to be used only for specific purposes like cabin crew making announcements before the flight commences, if there is any delay in departure, prolonged aircraft taxiing or return to the gate for any reasons. Of course, it must be used in emergency situations too. Definitely not to sing songs!
2) During this period, the forward galley of the aircraft remained unattended
3) A number of passengers were standing in the aisle area. DGCA officials said recently there have been incidents of passengers getting hurt due to turbulenece.
4) DGCA says the passengers were standing when aircraft was descending, something contested by Sonu who says no seat belt signs were on.
5) Flight crew, which means the pilots in the cockpit, was not informed about this activity in the cabin.
The Twitterati had a field day defending the cabin crew and making the obvious snide remarks against the regulator DGCA. "Forget having a sense of music, looks like DGCA does not even have a common sense", tweeted Tinu Cherian Abraham.
Journalist Chitra Subramaniam (chitraSD) uploaded a video of some Finnair cabin crew dancing on a flight to India to celebrate Independence Day.
It wasn't clear if the dance was happening when the aircraft was still on ground.
Nigam himself seemed most angry over DGCA's cabin crew suspension and even linked this to intolerance!
That India is a different aviation market from much of the world is evident from the regulations each airline must follow here. For example, while most international airlines allow alcohol to be served on board international as well as domestic flights, India does not allow any alcohol on domestic flights. Yes, it is a silly restriction but one which probably helps hapless cabin crew members keep some sanity on board – remember the unruly, uncouth Indian flyer who usually cannot hold his drink?
In a somewhat similar sense, it is best to not copy international practices mid-air and take a rather conservative approach to safety by eschewing mid-air singing or dancing in the Indian airspace. As for the suspended cabin crew members, they should be back at work after a refresher course in no time.