Air India office in Mumbai | Photo: REUTERS
New Delhi: More questions were raised on Sunday on Air India's handling of the incident in which an inebriated male flier urinated on an elderly woman co-passenger, even as Tata Group Chairman N Chandrasekaran admitted the airline's response should have been "much swifter".
A US-based doctor who was seated next to the accused spoke out about the November 26 incident, alleging the flight crew showed "no compassion" and failed in their responsibility on several counts as they made the woman talk to the man after his "indecent exposure" and she was made to go back to her soiled seat.
Dr Sugata Bhattacharjee told PTI that he wrote an elaborate complaint to Air India immediately after the flight landed and is speaking out now because of claims by accused Shankar Mishra's father that his son is innocent and may have been a victim of extortion.
However, a section of serving and retired pilots alleged that the flight captain and the crew were being made a scapegoat by the airline "just to avoid embarrassment and their own fault".
They claimed the airline did not read or react promptly to the report on the incident, which according to sources was filed by the cabin crew and counter-signed by the captain after the flight landed.
On Saturday, Air India's CEO and Managing Director Campbell Wilson issued a statement in which he said that four cabin crew and one pilot have been issued show cause notices and de-rostered pending investigation. He hasn't specified any reason for taking action against all five of them.
In a statement, which came days after the aviation regulator DGCA pulled up the Tata-owned full-service carrier, group chairman Chandrasekaran said on Sunday that "we fell short of addressing this situation the way we should have."
"The incident on Air India flight AI102 on November 26, 2022, has been a matter of personal anguish to me and my colleagues at Air India. Air India's response should have been much swifter. We fell short of addressing this situation the way it should have been," he said, adding they will "review and repair every process to prevent or address any incidents of such unruly nature".
Mishra, 34, who was missing for a few days after the incident came to light has been arrested from Bengaluru and sent to judicial remand for 14 days by a Delhi court.
Sugata Bhattacharjee, who was seated next to Mishra, narrated to PTI the sordid events of the business class cabin which have become front-page news after they came to light last week.
"It was a moral call for me, it was morality and I thought it was my moral obligation to stand and make a complaint and I did," Bhattacharjee, who is based in the US' New Hampshire state, said.
The buck stops with the pilot, he said, recounting that Mishra had four stiff drinks through lunch. He had also alerted a male crew member about Mishra having one too many and to keep an eye on him.
Pointing to multiple failures in the “procedural part”, the audiologist said to make the woman talk to Mishra after the incident was a “no no because indecent exposure is a crime”.
“It's a sexual assault. And once that happens, nobody should take a mediation route,” he said.
“I was angry. I don't care about what a drunk man did because he's not in his senses and that's why he does it. But people who had the power and the authority, they showed no compassion. In a plane, the pilot is the chief person and the buck stops with him."
While Bhattacharjee was in seat 8A, Mishra was in seat 8C in business class.
In his complaint to Air India, Bhattacharjee said the woman was made to go back to her soiled seat despite four seats in the First Class being vacant.
His complaint was, he said, that a lot of standard operating protocols were not followed.
Meanwhile, sources in Air India confirmed that when the flight in question AI102 landed in Delhi, the cabin crew in charge filled in a detailed report of what happened and it was counter-signed by the captain.
Captain S S Panesar, ex-pilot and former director of flight safety and training of the erstwhile Indian Airline said, said it is the laid down procedure.
"If the cabin crew department and Air India did not read or react promptly to the report, how can they blame the captain now? De-rostering and giving the captain a show cause notice is absolutely unfair and ridiculous,” Captain Panesar added.
"The management was made aware of the incident by the crew via a written report on landing. The management could have asked for more details if the report was not clear. Instead, the airline tried to bury the issue by negotiating with passengers concerned," Captain Ajay Ahlawat, an air force veteran, said.
Agreeing with Captain Ahlawat, Captain Amit Singh, the founder of an NGO called Safety Matters Foundation, said, "The root cause is the prevailing poor safety culture in the airline. While the crew may be held responsible if the incident was not reported, but the management is culpable if the reports were submitted". PTI