Aggressive behaviour by passengers to public urination incidents in mid-air draw a messy picture of fliers in recent times. Now, the real question arises whether these incidents are media hype or data-based. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) data accessed by IANS, comparing 1,000 flights, the incidents of unruly passengers who were intoxicated rose to 143 in 2022 from 2021 which were 121. However, it was 190 in 2020. “Action taken rate in incidents, declined to 279 in 2022 from 350 in 2020,” the data stated.
The reported incidents of alcohol abuse rose to 143 in 2022 as compared to 121 in 2021. Some 190 intoxication cases were reported in 2020. “The incidents of unruly behaviour by a minority of passengers have a significant impact, posing threat to safety, disrupting fellow passengers and crew, and leading to delays and diversions. Unfortunately, existing international air laws contain loopholes that often result in these offences going unpunished,” as per IATA.
Data from industry sources and regulatory bodies like the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) indicate a concerning long-term trend of increasing frequency and severity of unruly passenger incidents.
The majority of reported incidents involving unruly passengers fall under Level 1 classification, typically characterized by verbal misconduct and anti-social behaviour. Examples include non-compliance with face coverings (where required) or refusing to wear a seatbelt. In most cases, well-trained cabin crew members can effectively resolve these incidents using de-escalation techniques.
It is important to note that these incidents should not be dismissed as trivial, as there is always a potential for escalation, which diverts crew attention and disrupts the overall order and discipline onboard.
Similarly, instances where an individual is intoxicated but not displaying unruly or disruptive behaviour are likely to be classified as Level 1 incidents. It is crucial to emphasize that any passenger aboard a flight who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication poses a safety hazard, not only to themselves but to everyone else on the aircraft. An intoxicated passenger who cannot follow safety instructions or participate in emergency evacuation becomes a safety risk.
Level 2 and Level 3 incidents involve physical altercations that can pose significant danger to both crew members and fellow passengers. When an unruly passenger assaults a cabin crew member, the resulting injuries may render them incapable of fulfilling their primary duties. Additionally, there is a safety risk when unruly passengers damage or tamper with essential safety equipment on the aircraft.
On November 26, despite holding a high-ranking position in a US-based company and enjoying the privilege of travelling in the business class, a 34-year-old individual named Shankar Mishra reportedly engaged in a shocking act while under the influence of alcohol on an Air India flight from New York to New Delhi.
Mishra allegedly openly urinated on a septuagenarian woman who was also a passenger on the same flight. Air India, acting on the incident, imposed a four-month flying ban on Mishra on January 20.
“The independent three-member Internal Committee under the Chairmanship of the former District Judge has concluded that Shankar Mishra is covered under the definition of ‘unruly passenger’ and is banned from flying for a period of 4 months as per the relevant provisions of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR),” an Air India spokesperson said in a statement.
As a result of the incident, Air India has conducted a thorough review of its alcohol service policy. According to the new policy, the cabin crew is instructed to be vigilant in identifying passengers who may be consuming their own alcohol. Additionally, the airline emphasizes that cabin crew members should maintain a polite demeanour when interacting with passengers, refraining from labelling them as “drunk” and avoiding any attempts to persuade them into consuming further drinks if they have already reached their limit.
On January 20, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), an aviation regulator, took disciplinary action against Air India following an incident of passenger misbehaviour and imposed a fine of Rs 30 lakh on the airline and suspended the license of the pilot-in-command of the flight.
Furthermore, a penalty of Rs 3 lakh was levied on the director of in-flight services of Air India for her alleged failure to fulfil her duties. The DGCA became aware of the incident on January 4, 2023, and subsequently took appropriate measures to address the matter.
On May 8, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a plea by the victim in the Air India urination case seeking direction to the DGCA and airline companies to frame regulations to address incidents of passenger misconduct on board aircraft. The plea stressed on an explicit zero tolerance policy with respect to “unruly/disruptive behaviour”, which could mandate reporting it to law enforcement, failing which action would be taken against airlines in all cases.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, issued notice to the Centre, the DGCA and all airlines, including Air India. The bench sought the assistance of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was present in the case, in formulating a standard operating procedure (SOP) and scheduled the matter for hearing in July.