Last Word

End VIP Cul­ture

SP's Aviation - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - —By Air Mar­shal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

NOT ONLY IN IN­DIA but across the globe, the air­line in­dus­try is go­ing through a new kind of tur­bu­lence. One nor­mally hears of air­lines bat­tling prob­lems such as high op­er­at­ing costs, paucity of skilled man­power, strin­gent de­mands of reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties, vy­ing for mar­ket share and the per­pet­ual strug­gle for sur­vival in a fiercely com­pet­i­tive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

But in re­cent times, some of the air­lines have got em­broiled in ugly con­flict be­tween pas­sen­gers and the air­line staff as also amongst the staff them­selves. To be­gin with, there was the shock­ing episode of in­hu­man treat­ment of an Asian cou­ple in the United States in which they were off­loaded by the staff from an over­booked United Air­lines flight. In In­dia, there has been a re­volt, the very first of its kind, by the pi­lots of Jet Air­ways hold­ing Indian cit­i­zen­ship against the ex­pa­tri­ate pi­lots in the air­line. The Union of Indian pi­lots of Jet Air­ways has is­sued a di­rec­tive to its mem­bers that they are not to fly with the ex­pa­tri­ate pi­lots from May 1, 2017. This de­ci­sion has been taken by the Union ap­par­ently on ac­count of un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour by ex­pa­tri­ate pi­lots to­wards their Indian col­leagues as also to­wards the pas­sen­gers.

As for the con­flict be­tween the pas­sen­gers and air­line staff in In­dia in the re­cent past, there was the stand-off over class of travel and seat­ing be­tween Ravin­dra Gaik­wad, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) from Shiv Sena, and the Duty Man­ager of Air In­dia. Af­ter land­ing of the Pune-Delhi flight at the Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port (IGIA) at Delhi, the MP re­fused to de­plane that led to a con­flct be­tween him and the ground staff of the air­line. Apart from the de­lay of one-anda-half hours in the on­ward flight, the Duty Man­ager of Air In­dia, who in­ter­vened to re­solve the is­sue, was sub­jected to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence by the MP. This con­duct was shame­ful and most un­be­com­ing of an MP who en­joys the sta­tus of a VIP. This was fol­lowed by an­other in­ci­dent, a spat be­tween Dola Sen, a Tri­namool Congress MP, and the Air In­dia staff over seat­ing ar­range­ment on a flight that was to de­part from IGIA for Kolkata. In this episode too, the flight suf­fered in­or­di­nate de­lay re­sult­ing in in­con­ve­nience to pas­sen­gers and dis­rup­tion of sched­ule.

In both th­ese cases of mis­con­duct by VIPs, nei­ther was there any ac­tion taken against the de­fault­ers nor was there a for­mal apol­ogy from them. This com­pelled the na­tional car­rier to ex­plore other op­tions for deal­ing with cases of un­ruly be­hav­iour in the air­craft in the fu­ture. In the pur­suit of this ob­jec­tive, Air In­dia has pro­posed a fine of up to ` 15 lakh on pas­sen­gers whose un­ruly con­duct leads to de­lay in the flight. The pro­posal in­cludes other steps as well such as fil­ing of crim­i­nal case with the po­lice and no di­rect in­ter­ac­tion with the me­dia. While the pro­posal has been mooted by the na­tional car­rier alone, it is likely that all other air­lines will fol­low suit in adopt­ing this sys­tem.

While the predica­ment of air­lines is well un­der­stood es­pe­cially on ac­count of the im­pli­ca­tions of un­ruly con­duct of pas­sen­gers on air safety, the pro­posal for im­po­si­tion of fine re­quires re­con­sid­er­a­tion. The very first ques­tion that arises is whether a crim­i­nal act can re­ally be equated with mon­e­tary award. Af­ter all, can a heinous crime such as mur­der be ever com­pen­sated for by cash? Also, as it has hap­pened in the two cases of un­ruly be­hav­iour in the re­cent past by MPs where no ac­tion was taken by the law en­force­ment agen­cies, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties to which the two MPs be­long or by the gov­ern­ment, it is quite likely that in cases of sim­i­lar mis­con­duct in the fu­ture, the de­fault­ing VIPs may pay the fine from funds avail­able with them for de­vel­op­ment and get away scot-free. In all like­li­hood, it is the or­di­nary cit­i­zen who is likely to get im­pli­cated in cases of mis­con­duct and be­come a victim of ex­tor­tion by the air­line. Some un­scrupu­lous car­ri­ers on their part may see an op­por­tu­nity in this scheme to fab­ri­cate false cases against un­wary pas­sen­gers and ex­tract money from them so that they can cut their losses.

What is also sig­nif­i­cant is that un­ruly be­hav­iour by VIPs is not con­fined to air travel alone. The men­ace pre­vails across other seg­ments in so­ci­ety as well such as when deal­ing with law en­force­ment agen­cies, rail or road travel and pass­ing toll booths. As the num­ber of VIPs in In­dia is sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand times that in any other coun­try, the ex­tent of the malaise has be­come in­tol­er­a­ble. Un­less ef­fec­tive steps are taken by the gov­ern­ment to end VIP cul­ture, the threat of fines alone is un­likely to elim­i­nate the malaise of un­ruly be­hav­iour by VIPs on­board air­lin­ers. Mere re­moval of red bea­cons from the top of VIP ve­hi­cles may not suf­fice.

Un­less ef­fec­tive steps are taken by the gov­ern­ment to end VIP cul­ture, the threat of fines alone is un­likely to elim­i­nate the malaise of un­ruly be­hav­iour by VIPs on­board air­lin­ers

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