Editorial: Of airborne viruses, parasites
In a development that cements the reputation of Indian air travellers as probably the worst in the world, an inebriated Mumbai-based businessman travelling in business class on board an Air India flight from New York to New Delhi reportedly relieved himself on a 70-year-old woman. The victim, whose seat, clothes and luggage were soiled, was not offered an alternative seat for a significant part of the journey and was only later moved to a seat designated for the cabin crew.
This incident had taken place on November 26 last year, and the perpetrator of the crime had walked away from the crime scene with no legal action initiated against him until the victim had written to the Chairman of the Board of Tata Sons, explaining her ordeal. The Palam Police Station in Delhi has filed a case and the businessman has been barred for 30 days from flying the airline. On Thursday, the airlines informed the DGCA that the airline staffers had not complained to law enforcement authorities regarding the incident, as the two parties had ‘mutually sorted out’ their differences.
The news has invited the ire of everyone from women’s rights groups to consumer rights activists who have called out the airline for its lackadaisical approach to dealing with such a deviant. TMC MP Mahua Moitra did not mince her words when she recalled how stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra was slapped with an eight-month ban on flying enforced by multiple airlines on account of him heckling a popular news anchor inside a flight. Whereas the miscreant in the latest incident got away with a slap on the wrist for a misdemeanour graver than heckling.
But then, it seems Indians have an inglorious record of ‘less than acceptable’ behaviour 30,000 feet up in the air. A few weeks ago, a woman cabin crew member was recorded during a verbal spat with a male passenger who had referred to one of the staffers as the servant of the passengers. The cabin crew member raised her voice amidst the seemingly never-ending outburst of the passenger and was trolled mercilessly on Twitter even as many netizens lauded her for standing up for the dignity of a co-worker.
The airspace is now thrown open for verbal altercations and full-blooded, machismo-laden fisticuffs as well, like the cabin crew of a low cost Thai airline discovered more recently. In a viral video, a group of Indian youth returning from Bangkok to Delhi are seen roughing up a co-passenger who had refused to return his seat to the upright position on account of a headache.
Such migraines aside, airline staffers would vouch off the record that Indian passengers are truly an unruly lot to deal with. There are those who litter aisles with empty packs of savouries, and bits of food items/drinks consumed. Travellers dispose of tissues used to blow noses in magazine racks behind the seats. Many speak loudly minutes before take off, refusing to put their phones on airplane mode, or play their OTT shows loud enough for the whole cabin. Let’s not forget, almost everyone jostles to retrieve bags and be the first one out of the airplane even before it has docked with the aero-bridge.
The democratisation of air travel might be a boon for India. But it will take a change of mindset for passengers to leave their pettiness on ground before getting airborne.