To say that the peeing incident that occurred on November 26th on board an Air India non-stop flight from New York was disturbing is an understatement and we collectively as a society cannot afford to forget and move on but must ask how to prevent a recurrence.
To begin with, it appears that such incidents have occurred and are not uncommon on board Air India flights even in the past. Incidents of unruly or unpalatable behavior on board flights are common but these amount to pretty minor stuff compared to what they describe. For instance, men wandering in the business class cabin shirtless, in their vests, like preparing to go to bed as if in their own bedroom; men climbing on the seats with their shoes on upon landing in a rush to get to their hand luggage; and occasionally arguing with crew members for the entire bottle of alcohol to be left with them so they don’t need to keep asking for refills.
But as one senior female commander of the airline says, "much worse" has happened on flights and been "handled" (read : covered up) by those in charge over the years. This is quite unacceptable.
If what she and others claim is true, is such bad behavior business as usual or par for the course on Air India flights? Does it happen as commonly on all airlines or is Air India the airline of choice for the badly behaved? How many of such incidents fall in the nature of criminal offenses? Why does the crew and the airline choose to cover up such incidents rather than take action stern enough to nip them in the bud? Is it because they fail to find police support or is it just too much trouble to take action each time?
Although the details of what exactly transpired inside the flight still seem hazy, it is clear the commander did not act as per the laid down procedure. Hence, he was penalised. But it might be worthwhile for the authorities to look into who is to be the deciding authority in such matters for the future. Should the captain, who is in charge of many lives, stay focussed on the flight and the safety of his passengers or should he be distracted with such on board and cabin incidents. Commanders argue that it might be better to adopt the approach adopted by some other airlines including Qatar Airways where the commander is kept insulated to focus on what he needs to do: safely ferry the passengers. Procedures to be followed in such incidents might need a relook and refresh.
To come back to the incident in question, there are still unanswered questions like why the crew wasn't more proactive when the incident took place. What if the victim in question had been their mother, wife, sister or daughter? Would they have reacted the same way?
Moreover, what if such acts gain popularity in other spaces? What if this begins to happen in cinema halls or other such public places. How are we as a society going to tackle this?
For the civil aviation ministry or anyone else vested in curbing such offenses on board flights, here are a few suggestions to consider. Let there be a clearly stated policy that allows for nothing less than a lifelong ban on flying across airlines for offenses of this nature. Yes, it would be inconvenient for the offender and his kith and kin but let us make an example of such cases in the fervent hope that it discourages others contemplating similar acts. Some may consider this harsh but in the interest of the larger public good, we must take some strong measures if we can in the process make the aircraft and other public spaces a safer place for our daughters and womenfolk.
In the days that followed the outbreak of this story, what was even more disturbing was the crew's claim that some kind of financial deal had been worked out between the elderly lady victim and the offender, which is why the crew went easy on the offender. If this is indeed true, she needs a double dose of what she endured on board as this totally stinks! After suffering such humiliation and presumably trauma, who would be willing to settle the matter for money ? If there is even a grain of truth in this, re-examine the facts of this unpleasant saga in a brand new light altogether. As a nation we must place such victims along with the alleged offender on a life-long flying ban with no exceptions.