It’s time to get serious about the rights of air travellers
Thirty of the 166 passengers on board a Jet Airways Mumbai-Jaipur flight suffered nose and ear bleeds on Thursday morning as the cockpit crew forgot to switch on the mechanism to maintain cabin pressure, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). This may seem like a minor incident -- fortunately, no one needed hospitalisation -- but it could have been tragic. Low pressure in aircraft cabins has been known to cause fatalities before.
Jet’s response, while displaying its willingness to co-operate with an investigation into the matter, and announcing that the crew will not be flying again till this is complete, is bereft of any contrition. It’s also important to establish that there is no connection between the airline’s larger problems -- it is in deep financial trouble -- and the safety of its flights, Fortunately, modern aviation is tremendously safe, with minimal human involvement. But as jet’s experience shows, what little human involvement is there, could still cause problems. Aviation regulators should be always eagle-eyed, but especially about airlines that are in trouble otherwise.
The incident couldn’t have come at a worse time for the country’s aviation sector, with most airlines reeling under financial losses on the back of a rise in fuel prices and the depreciation of the rupee.
At least one passenger has sought compensation for his experience on the Jet flight. As of going to Press (CHECK) no one has sued the airline. Some may choose to. It is in this context that the passenger charter the civil aviation ministry is putting together becomes important. This will clearly and explicitly lay out the rights of passengers. According to the DGCA, India’s air passenger traffic grew from 14 million passengers in 2000-01 to 140 million passengers in 2017, most of them domestic. And one gaping hole that puts a dampener on India’s reputation as the third-largest domestic aviation market in the world is the absence of an air travel dispute tribunal or ombudsman. There is no forum for air travellers if they feel they’ve been wronged by an airline. A proposal for an ombudsman on the lines of a banking ombudsman has been hanging fire. The charter, which is expected soon, should address these issues and show that the government is serious about the rights and safety of air travellers.