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Air India may penalise pax for delays: How US levies huge fines to avoid misconduct in skies

Air India seems to be mulling over whether to impose a hefty financial penalty on passengers who delay flights so that such potential trouble creators can be deterred by the large amount involved, the Mint newspaper reported.

The United States, which is a large aviation market, is already dealing with unruly flyers by charging them a hefty penalty. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) jacked up the amount it can propose for unruly passenger cases from $1,100 to $25,000 per violation through ‘Reauthorization Bill (April 16, 2000)’. On its website, the FAA says one incident can result in multiple violations. This over 22-times increase in penalties is obviously working: The FAA database shows unruly passengers dropped to 92 in the entire calendar 2016 against 105, 147 and 149 in each preceding year. In four months till 5 Aprii in 2017, only 9 such cases were reported.

So, will Air India finally be able to extract large sums from passengers who are unable to control their anger in the skies? The Mint report says an internal note, not surprisingly, mentions three incidents of unruly passenger behavior which led to flight delays and each was the result of a Member of Parliament’s (MP) act.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

An official of a private domestic airline told Firstpost that said such a step, if implemented, would show an intention to curb unruly behavior in the skies but might not be “doable”. The official wondered who would decide the precise quantum of flight delay due to a passenger's misbehaviour (ruling out other factors for flight delays), and how will the penalty be enforced? Will it fall foul of existing consumer rights provisions?

Another official from a private airline said the simple solution for dealing with such passengers would be to offload them immediately and file an FIR against them. These officials declined to say whether all airlines would come together and decide to follow Air India by imposing a financial penalty on unruly flyers. Remember, last month, all airlines had come together to bar Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad from flying after he assaulted an Air India staffer and delayed the aircraft by over an hour.

It is clear that Air India is rattled by the Gaikwad controversy but still, it may or may not eventually come out with a guideline where it expects passengers to pay Rs 5 lakh per hour of flight delay when the cost of a one-way Delhi-Mumbai journey is sometimes not even a hundredth of this amount. But it is interesting to see how India’s airlines have been struggling to get some rules in place as the aviation market expands in the country.

First, the obvious: The air safety regulator of India, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, does not maintain data of unruly flyers. Unruly flyers are those who make the life of co-passengers and crew miserable on a flight by their obnoxious behavior and are considered fit to either be offloaded from the flight or barred from flying in future. Unlike the Indian habit of shunning any kind of data and statistics which could help improve services in the burgeoning aviation industry, the United States and some other countries maintain certified data of such incidents. These countries also have a ‘No Fly’ list of individuals who are barred from boarding an aircraft due to unacceptable behavior in the past.

The only data available as per DGCA is a breakup of reasons for flight delays every month. As per this statistic, which the airlines themselves provide, at most 3 percent of the reasons for flight delays were passenger related in the last six months. In fact, close to fifth of flight delays are due to a combination of ATC and airport issues!

Data for the last six months, from February this year to September 2016 show:
** February 2017: Delays due to passengers only 2% versus 20% due to ATC and airport combined
** January 2017: Delays due to passengers only 2% versus 14% due to ATC and airport combined
** December 2016: Delays due to passengers only 2% versus 14% due to ATC and airport combined
** November 2016: Delays due to passengers only 3% versus 17% due to ATC and airport combined
** October 2016: Delays due to passengers only 3% versus 23% due to ATC and airport combined
** September 2016: Delays due to passengers only 3% versus 22% due to ATC and airport combined
If the airlines are not imposing financial penalties on ATCs and Airports, would flyers agree to bear the burden?

This Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) which defines an unruly flyer and what can be done to deal with such passengers does not mention any financial penalties. It merely says “passengers who are likely to be unruly and disruptive must be carefully monitored, and if necessary, refused embarkation or off-loaded, if deemed to pose a threat to the safety and security of the flight, fellow passengers or staff while on board aircraft.”

Till the DGCA comes on board with levying of financial penalties, perhaps Air India’s endeavour would be a mere good-intention exercise. Besides, what happened to that ‘No-Fly’ list that the ministry of civil aviation said it was developing after the Gaikwad incident? Having such a list perhaps is a precursor to any form of financial penalty on unruly flyers.

Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 12:06 PM