If you answer to the name of Ravindra Gaikwad, are not the (in)famous Member of Parliament from Osmanabad, and intend to take a domestic flight, beware. With no specific mechanism in place to bar an individual from flights, India’s airlines seem to have played to the gallery, never mind the legalities or even the practical difficulties in implementing the ban on the MP. Shiv Sena’s Ravindra Gaikwad was banned from all domestic flights on Friday, after Air India and private airlines united and barred him from coming on board. The MP had to finally leave for Pune on a Rajdhani. The airlines were reacting to Gaikwad hitting an Air India staffer with his sandal on Thursday, after refusing to disembark from a flight at Delhi. The MP was travelling on an open ticket from Pune and was miffed at not being allotted a business-class seat on the all-economy flight.
First, it is not clear if the ban is restricted to Gaikwad’s domestic air travel or will also apply to overseas flights by Indian airlines. Second, is it indefinite?
On the very day that airlines decided to ban Gaikwad from flying, a peculiar situation developed. The crew of a leading airline was on ‘pins and needles’ yesterday evening as there were clear instructions to stop the MP from boarding this flight to Pune and their checklist showed an 'R Gaikwad' booked on this flight. Imagine the crew’s relief when the gentleman in question actually turned out to be “an old man travelling with family,” said a person close to developments. This person said the crew allowed this individual on the flight before confirming he was not the barred MP since the photo of the MP had been circulated beforehand. But how will Air India or any private airline actually implement this decision for other such bans in future?
The violence unleashed by Gaikwad is condemnable in the strongest possible manner but now, after the airlines’ unilateral decision to bar him from flying, countless other men christened ‘Ravindra Gaikwad’ could well face harassment when they want to next take a flight to anywhere in this country. There is no fool proof mechanism in place to implement such a ban, how does only the intended Ravindra Gaikwad get barred from boarding a flight?
An airline veteran spoke of the need to make some sort of identification mandatory while booking domestic tickets, saying linking the process to Aadhar or a passport identification could be a possible solution. If this happens, it is feasible to just block a particular Aadhar number from booking an airline ticket, otherwise the process will remain arbitrary.
One airline industry veteran described this as an instance of a kangaroo court ruling, saying though it has been hailed by the public and the MP needed to taught how to behave in public, a ban is bad in law as it stands now.
This Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) issued by the DGCA in 2014 speaks to barring individuals who are unruly and disruptive but does not mandate any mechanism for screening such passengers. 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.”
The CAR also says that in case unruly behaviour happens while the aircraft is on the ground, such cases shall be reported immediately and an FIR lodged with security agency at the aerodrome for assistance. And then goes on to advise use of restraining devices on the errant flyer. “Crew members must attempt to defuse a critical situation until it becomes clear that there is no way to resolve through verbal communication and written notice to passenger. Applying restraining devices should be used when all conciliatory approaches have been exhausted”.
There already seems to be a divide between airlines on the move, though they have put up a united front in public. At least one major airline had preferred to remain mum on the ban, signaling its indecision on any future course of action in this matter. One airline veteran said the coming together of bitter airline rivals in this instance was a good public relations move but also aimed at pressurizing the aviation regulator DGCA to come out with a no-fly list.
“We want the government to get serious about a no-fly list. Otherwise, this instance will become a flash in the pan, forgotten soon. Also, there are numerous instances of threat to passenger safety in Indian skies daily by unruly passengers but the government doesn’t seem keen to build a no-fly database. We want such a list prepared,” this person added.
Air India, which was the first airline to bar Gaikwad from its flights, did not respond for this story and text messages to CMD Ashwani Lohani as well as airline spokespersons remained unanswered. Private airlines also did not want to come on record and some of their chiefs too did not respond to queries on how will such a ban on any individual be implemented.
This piece quotes MoS Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha saying incidents like this "just accelerate" the process of preparing a No-Fly list. It says Sinha has been working on such a list. Countries like the US that have no-fly lists bar passengers from an airline as they are alerted the moment a person who is not supposed to fly books a ticket. And Civil Aviation Minister A Gajapathi Raju tweeted “We are also working on creating institutional mechanisms to check undesirable flight behaviour or unruly passengers.”
The sooner such mechanisms are put in place, the better it would be for India’s flyers. Till then, they seem to be at the mercy of airlines.
Updated Date: Mar 25, 2017 12:50 PM