Did not classify incident correctly, admits Air India; says will back crew

Updated on Jan 25, 2023 02:52 AM IST

New Delhi: Air India on Tuesday accepted that it did not correctly classify , and therefore, did not report the incident on flight AI102 where a drunk passenger urinated on an elderly woman.

The airline said that its ground staff did not challenge the crew’s assessment and therefore, did not report the matter as an unruly incident. (Shutterstock)
The airline said that its ground staff did not challenge the crew’s assessment and therefore, did not report the matter as an unruly incident. (Shutterstock)

New Delhi: Air India on Tuesday accepted that it did not correctly classify , and therefore, did not report the incident on flight AI102 where a drunk passenger urinated on an elderly woman. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the airline also added that it would help the pilot, who was de-rostered by the aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for three months on Friday, to appeal against the regulator’s order.

“Air India accepts that, notwithstanding the mitigating circumstances, based on the letter of the CAR (civil aviation requirement) it did not correctly classify the incident and therefore did not report it as required... The cabin crew and ground staff have been counselled and have since returned to duty,” the airline stated.

The classification has to do with whether an act by a passenger is defined as “unruly behaviour”, and the crew would appear to have been swayed by the fact that the perpetrator was “calm and co-operative” as mentioned in the statement, and overlooked the gravity of his alleged behaviour. The statement also claimed that the passenger was not served excess liquor and did not appear to be intoxicated to the crew.

Also read: Air India makes adjustments to in-flight alcohol policy after urination episode

The airline’s statement said: “Air India wishes to acknowledge the good faith efforts made by crew to handle the situation effectively in real time, when not all facts were available…In light of the mitigating circumstances and the financial detriment already incurred by the crew during their period of de-rostering, Air India deems the license suspension of the Commander excessive and will be assisting him with an appeal.”

Air India also said that it has closed its internal investigation of the alleged incident.

“The crew were approached by the complainant seeking assistance after allegedly being urinated on by a fellow passenger. In the absence of any witnesses, the crew took the complainant’s allegation at face value and assisted her….When awoken and confronted with the allegation, the alleged perpetrator was calm, co-operative and professed ignorance of the allegation. He had not been served excessive alcohol by the crew and did not appear intoxicated to the crew,” the airline said, adding that the Commander (pilot-in-command) was kept informed of the developments by the cabin crew.

“In the judgment of the crew, the alleged perpetrator posed no risk to flight safety at any time,” it said.

“Air India acknowledges that, in immediately taking the complainant’s accusation at face value and providing assistance, it follows that the matter should have been reported as a prima facie case of a passenger…behaving in a disorderly manner toward… other passengers... the matter should have been classified and reported as such, without prejudice to any subsequent investigation into the facts,” the airline said in a statement.

The airline also stated that its ground staff did not challenge the crew’s assessment and therefore, did not report the matter as an unruly incident.

To be sure, as HT reported on Saturday, the crew did inform their superiors of the incident shortly after landing, and the airline’s managing director too received an e-mail detailing the incident form the woman’s son-in-law.

The airline’s closure report said that the crew made a call to record the matter as a (non-reportable) inflight incident rather than a (reportable) case of unruliness based on the absence of witnesses to the alleged act, that the alleged perpetrator was peaceful, co-operative and claiming ignorance of the event, that there was no risk to flight safety and that a resolution had been witnessed between the parties.

“It should also be noted that, in the absence of witnesses to the alleged act, crew were being asked to make a presumption of the accused’s guilt which runs contrary to natural justice and due process,” the statement said.

India’s aviation regulator has fined Air India 30 lakh for the incident. On Tuesday, in an unrelated move, it fined the airline 10 lakh for incidents on a Paris-New Delhi flight (AI-142) where an inebriated passenger was caught smoking in the lavatory and not adhering to the crew instructions, while another flyer allegedly relieved himself on the vacant seat and blanket of a fellow female passenger when she went to the lavatory on December 6 last year.

Also read: 'Pressure to find a scapegoat': Air India pilots' body on Shankar Mishra case

Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), Air India Employees unions (AIEU), All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) , Air Corporations Employees Union (ACEU) , and Airline Pilots Association of India (ALPA), a union that represents pilots from across the country, sent a joint petition to DGCA on Tuesday, seeking the withdrawal of the pilot’s suspension, calling it a “harsh punishment.” .

“We believe that the regulator has acted without perhaps obtaining all the facts on record. The due process of investigation has not been followed and vital steps in the investigation and enforcement have been skipped. Additionally, gaps remain in the data collected, which need to be brought to light,” their letter said.

Capt. Sam Thomas, president of ALPA said, “In case of any incident, the first step taken by the DGCA is to ground the pilot. At least in this case, there was nothing more that the pilot could have done yet after de-rostering all the crew, his licence has been suspended for three months.” Commenting on the airline’s offer to support the pilot he said, “It was based on the airline’s reply to DGCA that the pilot was suspended. The facts stated by the airline on Tuesday should have been done immediately after the incident was highlighted by the media. We will approach the court in this matter.”

The accused in the case, Shankar Mishra was arrested on January 6 and has not been granted bail.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    I am a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. I track the aviation and railways ministry. I also write on travel trends. I cover the beats at the national level for the newspaper. Before being in Delhi, I have worked as a journalist in Mumbai as well. My hobbies include trekking and travelling.

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