Tata Group-owned Air India CEO Campbell Wilson on Saturday apologised for a flyer urinating on a fellow female passenger on a flight from New York in November, and said four cabin crew and a pilot have been de-rostered and the airline is reviewing policy of serving alcohol on flights.
Facing backlash for the handling of the incident, Wilson in a statement said the airline could have handled the issue better and promised a robust reporting system of unruly behaviour and a system of reporting such incidents.
“Air India is deeply concerned about the in-flight instances where customers have suffered due to the condemnable acts of their co-passengers on our aircraft. We regret and are pained about these experiences,” he said.
“Air India acknowledges that it could have handled these matters better, both in the air and on the ground and is committed to taking action.” With questions being raised about the airline not immediately reporting the unruly passenger to law enforcement authorities, he advised staff to report all incidents irrespective of a settlement being reached.
“In the instance of the incident onboard AI-102 operating between New York and Delhi on November 26, 2022, four cabin crew and one pilot have been issued show cause notices and de-rostered pending investigation,” he said, adding internal investigations into whether there were lapses by other staff are ongoing.
The airline is investigating aspects including the service of alcohol on flight, incident handling, complaint registration on board and grievance handling.
As a responsible airline brand, Air India has commenced a comprehensive education programme to strengthen crews’ awareness of and compliance with policies on the handling of incidents and unruly passengers with a view to materially strengthen and improve how such incidents would be addressed in future.
The airline is reviewing “policy on service of alcohol in flight,” he said without elaborating.
Also, it is reviewing the meeting frequency of the DGCA-prescribed ‘Internal Committee’, tasked with assessing incidents, so that cases are assessed and decisions reached in a more timely manner.
“To improve the robustness of its legacy incident reporting processes, which are presently paper-based and manual, Air India signed a Letter of Intent in December 2022 to acquire a license for the market-leading provider of incident management software, Coruson,” he said.
“In addition to this state-of-the-art software, the airline is also in the process of deploying iPads to Pilots and Senior Cabin Crew. When used together, crew will be able to enter voyage and incident reports electronically, which will then be rapidly and automatically routed to relevant parties including, as required, the Regulator.” Air India, he said, also continues to provide support to the affected passengers and ensure their well-being.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Thursday stated that Air India at first glance appeared to have not complied with provisions related to the handling of an unruly passenger onboard.
The DGCA notices came after the airline told the regulator that its staff had not complained about the Mumbai businessman who allegedly urinated on a female passenger on a New York-Delhi flight AI 102 flight of November 26, 2022 to law enforcement, as the aggrieved lady had “rescinded” an initial request for action after the two “appeared” to have sorted out the issue.
It stated that the offender was banned from flying on Air India for 30 days, pending a report of its Internal Committee.
While the Palam Police Station in Delhi has registered a case, the aggrieved passenger has been refunded the flight fare.
On Saturday, the CEO said upon receipt of the complaint on November 27, Air India “acknowledged receipt and commenced engaging in correspondence with the affected passenger’s family on November 30; commenced a refund of the ticket on December 2, with receipt of funds acknowledged by the victim’s family on December 16; and initiated the DGCA-prescribed ‘Internal Committee’, tasked with assessing incidents and which comprises a retired judge, a representative from a passengers’ association, and a representative from another Indian commercial airline, on December 10.” The file was passed to the Committee on December 20 and a 30-day interim travel ban imposed on the same date.
Also, Air India convened four meetings between senior Airline staff, the victim and her family on December 20, 21, 26 and 30 to discuss actions being taken and the progress thereof.
“When the victim’s family requested that Air India lodge a police report during the meeting on December 26, it did so on December 28, 2022,” he said.
“Air India and its staff will continue to provide full cooperation to the affected passenger, and regulators and law enforcement authorities as they investigate these cases. We are committed to providing a safe environment for customers and crew, as well as operating in full compliance with all laws and regulations.”