IndiGo assault incident exposes lack of flying etiquette in India; getting both sides of the story equally important

The ugly incident at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) in New Delhi, where a passenger was beaten up by IndiGo staff, is just another indication of the absence of flying etiquette in the country. While what the staffers did in the video is out of line and violence can never be condoned, it is not always easy to handle our flight passengers and provocations can be often intensely humiliating.

Since we generally lack the understanding of basic courtesies, the same sort of conduct that marks our social interaction on the ground is reflected at the airport and on the aircraft.

 IndiGo assault incident exposes lack of flying etiquette in India; getting both sides of the story equally important

File image of an IndiGo Airlines flight. Reuters.

So while it is all very well for IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh to rush into high voltage damage control and serve us all sermons and soda water and swiftly sacrifice the staff member, perhaps, it would have been a little fairer to take into consideration both versions of the two men involved in the scuffle.

If someone insults your mother or sister in Hindi invectives or calls you names and threatens you in office, train station or bus, you will be ready to fight for your honour.

The airport is no different. This is our normal code of conduct. I am not holding a brief for the two staffers who are trained to swallow insult but if they are not mentally unstable we must understand that it is not customary to go around bashing up people while on duty. Something pretty nasty must have happened to get the two uniformed men into such a frenzy.

Maybe the passenger Mr Rajiv Katiyal was the first to lash out and the video didn’t come on till the IndiGo staffers defended themselves and then attempted to subdue the passenger. This is legally acceptable behaviour because it is paramount to stop an unruly passenger (it is actually a category) from upsetting or causing any compromise in safety.

In September this year, a US judge fined an ‘unruly traveller’ $1,00,000 for messing about. Between 2007 and 2015, International Air Transport Association (IATA) received over 49,000 complaints of physical attacks by passengers on the crew and one in ten were incidents of physical aggression while a fifth of them was intoxicated.Under aviation law, the remit for crew and staff is wide.

All these situations can call for offloading a passenger.

  • Illegal consumption of narcotics
  • Refusal to comply with safety instructions (not following cabin crew requests such as direction to fasten seat belts, to not smoke, to turn off a portable electronic device or by disrupting the safety announcements)
  • Verbal confrontation with crew members or other passengers
  • Physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers
  • Uncooperative passenger (examples include interfering with the crew’s duties, refusing to follow instructions to board or leave the aircraft)
  • Making threats of any kind towards the crew, other passengers or the aircraft
  • Sexual abuse/harassment
  • Other types of riotous behaviour (examples include: screaming, annoying behaviour, kicking and banging heads on seat backs or tray tables)

IATA took the issue of misconduct to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and called for a review of the Tokyo Convention 1963. A Diplomatic Conference at ICAO in April 2014  agreed the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14) amends\ TC63 by extending jurisdiction over offences to the State of intended landing (destination) in addition to the State of aircraft registration.

Other changes give greater clarity to what as a minimum constitutes unruly behaviour and reinforces the right of airlines to seek recovery of the significant costs from unruly passengers.

Rudeness to in-flight crew, lewd comments about stewardesses in their hearing, scuffles with ground staff if flights are late (believe me they are more ignorant of why than you are) and irrational demands for extra luggage, better seats and anger over offloads are a daily routine.

Drunk passengers abound behave like aggressive groups high on testosterone.

I have seen a US passport holder throw a fistful of dollars at an Air India senior manager and call him a dog.

I have seen a businessman push and shove an airport employee in the aisle and threaten to have him dismissed from service.

We have hardly ever arrived or departed from an Indian airport without seeing a fight or argument and the cases of VIPs misbehaving are legendary and that litany need not be repeated here.

The flying culture being weak is also compromised by every Indian traveller knowing someone in the aviation business and wanting favours. Name dropping is integral to the conduct.

Hypothetically, think for a moment if it was you. Eight hours of duty and now you have a hostile passenger who is spouting epithets and then winding himself up to a peak of rage. Maybe he touches you, shoves you, starts calling for support from others, his vituperative getting wilder, descends into rich gaalis and mocks you. At what point do you say, you know what, this job isn’t worth it and this guy needs to be set right.

Either we believe this is possible as an alternate scenario or we accept unquestioningly that the IndiGo staff had a boring day and decided to liven it up by beating a passenger for fun.

Perhaps Mr Ghosh should consider an enquiry before getting rid of his staff unilaterally.

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Updated Date: Nov 08, 2017 15:57:34 IST