It’s time airlines took a tough line against unruly VIP behavior

“Air rage” – or sudden and violent behavior by a passenger affecting those who work on flights or associated people – is a menace that has led to civil aviation authorities issuing strict guidelines on deterrence and punishment for those responsible for such acts.

In India, while the laws on unruly and disruptive behavior in an airliner are clear, they are difficult to enforce when the perpetrators take the cover of their positions of power.

The outrageous conduct of Ravindra Gaikwad, the Member of Parliament from Osmanabad who belongs to the Shiv Sena, with Air India staff after seeking a business class seat in an all-economy flight from Pune to Delhi, required more than just a legal response by the airline.

The Air India cabin crew had its task cut out but handled the incident well as can be gleaned from raw video images of what transpired on March 23.

The consequent steps taken by the national carrier and members of the Federation of Indian Airlines to put him on a “no-fly list” is a welcome one.

While the Aircraft Rules of 1937 have outlined a course of actions to be taken after such disruptive behavior, the application of a “no-fly list” is a new development and is in line with similar practices adopted in many countries. This practice should deter such outrageous actions by anyone, irrespective of whether the malefactor is in a position of power or not.

Such behavior is, unfortunately, not uncommon among legislators. In 2015, a Jet Airways woman cabin crew member complained about alleged misbehavior by Bihar MLA Pappu Yadav during a Patna-Delhi flight.

In November 2015, a case was registered against YSR Congress Party MP P. Mithun Reddy and others for allegedly assaulting an Air India station manager at Tirupati airport. These incidents are symptomatic of a culture of entitlement that pervades many in power today and, sadly, gives credence to the flawed notion that political representatives are a law unto themselves. Mr. Gaikwad’s actions were compounded by the fact that he brazenly justified his behavior – of hitting an airline employee with his slippers after the latter said that he would complain to the Prime Minister.

While the Shiv Sena has said it does not condone his actions, its leader and MP, Sanjay Raut, has in bizarre fashion put the onus on Air India, asking it to think over “what would happen if the public decides to blacklist the airline”. The Shiv Sena has a history of high-handedness and use of political muscle. Party president Uddhav Thackeray had sought to move away from the rough-arm tactics of the past and to align his party to a new form of provincial politics. Mr. Gaikwad’s behavior suggests that the party is no closer to that goal.

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