Protect flyers from airline excesses

Protect flyers from airline excesses

A video showing the ground staff of IndiGo airlines manhandling a passenger at Delhi airport that went viral last week triggered public outrage. It showed a verbal altercation between the passenger and the ground staff turning into an assault on the former after he deplaned from a Chennai-Delhi flight. The passenger was stopped from boarding the bus from the tarmac to the airport terminal. Members of the airline staff pinned him down to the ground and held him there for a while. The incident occurred on October 15 but came to public attention only when the video went viral.

In a letter to the civil aviation minister after he ordered an inquiry into the incident, IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh conceded that the incident was "extremely regrettable" and he wished it had been "handled differently". But instead of tendering an unqualified apology, he used screenshots from the video to explain what transpired between the passenger and the airline staff and sought to defend their actions, claiming that these were provoked by the passenger's unruly behaviour. The letter claimed that the airline sacked the whistleblower, an IndiGo staffer who shot the video, because it was he who instigated his colleagues to pounce on the passenger. While the truth of these claims will be known only after the inquiry, the incident as well as the airline management's response are unacceptable in a civilised society. Whatever the provocation, assaulting a passenger cannot be justified under any circumstance. In the face of a public relations crisis, the IndiGo management has now belatedly advised its staff "not to get provoked and get drawn into any argument with passengers."

The incident is similar to a recent one at US-based United Airlines, when the video of a passenger being dragged out from one of its aircraft sparked public outcry and forced the airline to apologise. Federal aviation authorities threatened United and other carriers with legislation aimed at improving customer service. In another incident in India last week, a woman passenger on an AirAsia flight alleged that the airline staff humiliated and manhandled her, while the cabin crew claimed that she had refused to get off the phone and switch it off during take-off as required by rules. Authorities in India must follow the US lead, but have moved in the opposite direction. The government recently empowered airlines to take deterrent action against unruly passengers, including putting them on a no-fly list. The effect of the new rule has been to tilt the balance in favour of airlines to the detriment of passenger rights. The government must immediately put in measures to protect passengers from the excesses of airlines and airport staff, security and other agencies. Otherwise, such incidents are bound to increase.

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