Baffling is the only word that comes to mind to describe Air India’s latest move. It has said that it will reserve six seats for women on its domestic routes from next week. The reason, though not clearly articulated, seems to have been the incident in which a woman passenger was groped while asleep during a long haul Air India flight. With this seat reservation, Air India says that women travelling alone and in middle or window seats will not be inconvenienced while going to the washroom.
Judging by the response on social media, this patronising and sexist step has not gone down well, least of all with women. This comes at a time when the airline has been rated the third worst in the world, something it has furiously refuted.
We wonder what the priorities of the airline are. Reserving seats for women certainly should not be one. On what basis will these reserved seats be allocated? And why on earth should an airline whose prime motive should be to be competitive and provide value for money want to reserve seats for anyone? Those with disabilities could be accommodated in seats where they could have easier access to the washroom or exits, the elderly must be shown consideration but reservation goes against the very grain of any competitive business.
The struggling airline has many problems it needs to tackle. While it has been successful in reducing its bloated crew-to-passenger ratio, it still lacks professionalism in in-flight services and ground handling. One of the frequent complaints is that its ground staff are either badly trained or unresponsive to travellers, and that it is not competitively priced.
In recent times, in the domestic sector, private carriers have given it a run for its money. Much of its fleet is aging and needs an urgent upgrade. One of the responses on social media goes: Women don’t need reserved seats but clean seats would be a good idea.
The other problem that Air India has been trying to tackle with not much success is that of our political worthies demanding upgrades and using the carrier as a private charter. There are many stories of ministers getting upgrades for their relatives, something which causes a loss of revenue for the airline.
For years, the airline has been bleeding and there have been numerous committees which have made valid recommendations on how to set things right. These have all got a quiet burial. The obvious answer would privatisation — something the political class is resistant to. But given the myriad problems that affect the airline, reservations for women should not have featured anywhere on its agenda going forward.