To penalise unruly air passengers, DGCA shouldn’t punish all air fliers | columns | Hindustan Times
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To penalise unruly air passengers, DGCA shouldn’t punish all air fliers

It’s pertinent to remember that barring the uncivil, deplorable behaviour of some so-called VVIPs, most other skirmishes between the airline staff and passengers are over poor services such as delays and cancellations of flights, offloading of passengers on overbooked flights and the rude behaviour of the airline staff.

columns Updated: Jun 08, 2017 10:35 IST
Pushpa Girimaji
Civil Aviation Requirements is sure to undermine passenger rights and badly hurt their interests.
Civil Aviation Requirements is sure to undermine passenger rights and badly hurt their interests. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

The aviation regulator’s proposal to penalise unruly passengers by putting them on a “No fly” list may seem appropriate when viewed in the context of the abominable behaviour of Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, but a close scrutiny of the proposal, released for public comments by the Director General of Civil Aviation, raises serious concerns over its effect on the rights of air passengers.

In fact if enforced in its current form, there is every likelihood of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) on ‘Handling of unruly/disruptive passengers’ being misused by the airline staff. Or to put it differently, the CAR is sure to undermine passenger rights and badly hurt their interests.

It’s pertinent to remember that barring the uncivil, deplorable behaviour of some so-called VVIPs, most other skirmishes between the airline staff and passengers are over poor services such as delays and cancellations of flights, offloading of passengers on overbooked flights and the rude behaviour of the airline staff.

In fact most passenger protests over cancellation or undue flight delays stem from the airlines’ failure to give the passengers, factual information, address their queries and concerns and take appropriate remedial measures. However, if one goes by the draft CAR, all such expressions of unhappiness or anger over poor service can be bracketed as unruly behaviour, deserving punishment!

“The passenger shall also be made aware that in case his behaviour falls into one of the following categories, he or she is likely to be breaking the law and could be arrested on arrival at destination..,” says the draft CAR. A frightening prospect indeed! More so when one learns that one of the categories in the list is “use of any threatening, abusive or insulting words towards a member of crew or other passengers”. And who is to decide what is abusive or insulting? The crew of course!

And what is the poor passenger’s defence against such accusation made by the crew? In the absence of a CCTV or the contact numbers of co-passengers who may be witness to the altercation, the passenger has no evidence to defend his/her case!

The draft CAR defines a ‘disruptive passenger’ as one ‘who fails to respect the rules of conduct at an airport or on board an aircraft or to follow the instructions of the airport staff or crew members and thereby disturbs the good order and discipline at an airport or on board the aircraft.’ So as per this definition, it is not difficult to brand a passenger as ‘disruptive’!

The CAR requires airlines to detect unruly passenger behaviour at check in, in the lounges and at the boarding gate, so as to prevent such passengers from boarding. So this gives airlines an opportunity to bump passengers from an overbooked flight, by branding them as ‘unruly’!

Yet, the CAR does not provide for imposition of any penalty on the airline staff for false and frivolous complaints nor any compensation to passengers who are victims of such false branding!

And it gives enormous power to the airline staff, whose behaviour is not always exemplary. In fact, complaints about staff behaviour constitutes the fourth largest chunk among passenger complaints received by airlines, as per the DGCA data! In the month of April, grievances pertaining to baggage constituted 28% of the total number of complaints, followed by dissatisfaction over customer service (25.7%), flight problem (22.4%) and staff behaviour (8.7%)

Certainly, extremely reprehensible behaviour like that of Gaikwad, who hit the Air India officer with his footwear needs to be suitably punished. But in order to do so, and expand the provision for punishment provided under the Aircraft Rules, the DGCA cannot put in jeopardy, the rights of all air passengers!