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The truth is that Indians are the world’s worst passengers

By now I assume you have all read the story about the horrific incident on a flight from New York.

And that you are as shocked as I was when I read about it. But in case you missed it, here is what happened.


A lady passenger in her 70s, was sitting in an aisle seat in business class on an Air India flight from New York to Delhi. When the lights were off (all international airlines either put off or dim cabin lights after a meal service to allow passengers to sleep), a fellow passenger walked up to her seat, unzipped his pants and urinated over her.


   After he had finished urinating, the man just stood there in front of her, his genitals exposed. He only moved away when another passenger intervened. The horrified woman informed the cabin crew. The woman says that her clothes, shoes and bag were completely soaked in urine. Naturally, she was traumatised.


   According to her, the crew gave her pyjamas and disposable slippers after she had cleaned herself in the tiny airplane toilet. The crew also disinfected her seat and put sheets on top of it. Naturally, she refused to go back to it. The crew then offered a narrow crew seat where she sat for most of the remainder of the flight.


   As far as she could tell, nothing happened to the passenger. He disembarked as normal at Delhi airport and went off on his merry way.


   In fact, she says, nothing was done to assuage her trauma till she wrote to N Chandrasekaran, the Chairman of the Tata group that now runs the airline.


   After that, Air India set up a committee to look into the issue and said later that it was working with the police and regulatory authorities.


   The passenger’s primary grievance seems to be against the cabin crew who she says did not do enough to help her. I have not heard the crew’s version but if the passenger’s story is accurate, then their behaviour was disgraceful. She says that though they had empty seats in First Class (which Air India often does on that sector), nobody bothered to find her a seat in the First Class cabin, which surely is the least they could have done. And, judging by her story, the crew made no attempt to initiate any action against the passenger when the flight landed in Delhi.


   On the face of it, she has reason to be unhappy with Air India, the crew and the manner in which she was treated.


   But the incident also seems to me to be yet another instance of something I keep repeating: yes, there is a lot wrong with our airlines.  But there is much more that is wrong with Indian passengers.


   This story comes on the heels of two viral videos. One showed a passenger, who had just reduced a member of cabin crew to tears telling another crew member that she was a servant. A second video showed a fist fight on a Thai Smile flight from Bangkok to Delhi. The plane had not even taken off when passengers began assaulting one of their number.


"And as the latest Air India incident shows, even business class passengers can behave in the most horrifying manner." 

   According to the media the Thai Smile incident was set off by the refusal of a passenger to put his seat upright during take-off as he is required to do by the regulations that govern air travel all over the world.


   “I have a headache” he said and though the crew and other passengers tried to explain to him that there was a safety issue involved, he refused to relent. That led to the violence.


   The truth is that Indians are the world’s worst passengers. We shove, we push, we treat staff badly, we refuse to obey rules and we treat our fellow passengers with a total lack of respect.


   Within the airline business, they will tell you (off the record, of course) that this is one consequence of the democratisation of air travel. Many more people (some of whom have rarely flown very much before) are travelling and they don’t know how to behave on planes.


   I don’t accept this. As far back as the 1980s, when we only had Indian Airlines and Air India, I have seen passengers getting drunk and behaving badly on flights. I have seen them treating crew with contempt and making offensive sexist remarks. I have seen them rush into the aircraft, pushing other passengers aside so that they can grab the overhead bins to place their three pieces of overstuffed hand baggage in them. I have seen fights break out at check in queues. I have watched people grab traffic assistants by the collars because their flight has been delayed.


   And as the latest Air India incident shows, even business class passengers can behave in the most horrifying manner.


   What is to be done?


   Well, for a start, we can stop moaning about our airlines and take a long hard look at ourselves. Yes, airlines frequently get it wrong: they lie about delays; flights are cancelled arbitrarily; on one occasion a staff member got into a physical tussle with a passenger. And so on. All of that is inexcusable.


   But what about us? Are we to be forgiven for the way we behave just because we have paid for our tickets and think we own the plane?


   The Civil Aviation Minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has done the right thing by ordering a police complaint be filed against those who got into that fight on the Thai Smile flight. But we need to do more. The crew must be told not to take criminal behaviour by passengers in their stride. It must always be reported to the authorities when the aircraft lands. They must get the full backing of the airline when they refuse to serve alcohol to passengers who seem inebriated. They should be allowed to offload those huge bags that passengers bring on to the plane because they don’t want to check them in. (Have you ever been on a flight where the overhead bins do not quickly fill up, leaving passengers who board later with no room for their bags?)


   And all this no-fly list stuff is not enough. Many of the people who misbehave don’t necessarily fly that often. Banning them from flying for a month is no real punishment.


   We must start handing people who behave badly or mistreat other passengers or staff to the police. Never ever let them walk out of the airport when they land as though they have done nothing wrong. Always hold them accountable. And if necessary, make them pay: cash fines or serve jail time.


   As for the drunk who urinated on that poor lady, I have only one question – as I know you do --- why is that man not in jail?



Posted On: 05 Jan 2023 10:58 AM
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