Tata-group owned Air India and Vistara placed 93 passengers in no-fly lists in 2023 for unruly in-flight behaviour. Together, this accounted for over 90 per cent of all no-fly list cases in the country last year, data obtained from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) showed.

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DGCA, in September 2017, framed rules on the handling of unruly passengers. The rule was triggered after then Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad beat an Air India employee with slippers for not giving him a business class seat on a Pune-Delhi flight. Between 2017 and 2022 domestic airlines collectively banned 140 passengers from flying for various periods of time. Interestingly, not a single passenger was banned by Air India under the rule in those five years. However, Air India seems to have gone on a safety overdrive in the aftermath of the pee-gate incident of November 2022. The airline faced flak for its handling of an onboard urination incident on a New York-Delhi flight, resulting in regulatory fine of ₹30 lakh and suspension of the pilot for three months. The case is now subjudice.

While Air India put 71 passengers on a no-fly list, Vistara banned 22 in 2023. Akasa Air and IndiGo placed 14 and one passenger, respectively, in no-fly lists, according to data obtained under the Right to Information Act 2005. None of the four airlines replied to email query on the topic.

“Air rage and unruly passengers are a huge problem and airlines need to take them seriously and file charges against obnoxious behaviour,” said aviation expert and lawyer Sanjay Lazar. The legal system must also ensure that passenger rights are balanced and due process is followed, he added.

The 2017 rule classifies unruly incidents in three levels based on their seriousness. It lays down steps that airlines need to take against unruly behaviour including setting up of a three member committee for banning disruptive passengers. According to industry sources, a majority of the occurrences are classified as level 1 (verbal abuse, lewd gestures etc) or level 2 ( physically abusive behaviour, sexual harassment etc). Level 3 includes dangerous acts like causing damage to an aircraft, murderous assault etc.

“There are several instances when passengers are angry with the service or have an altercation with fellow passengers. Our duty is to calm such passengers and control the situation. If possible we change their seats. We have to be firm and warn passengers about unacceptable behaviour. However earlier incidents like minor altercations among passengers would go unreported after the situation was brought under control. This is not the case anymore. We make safety reports of all such incidents,” said an Air India crew. “ We don’t take sides in such matters. We simply report them,” another crew member remarked.

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Air India is taking unruly passenger behaviour seriously and backing up crew members to report such incidents, an executive said. The airline has also reviewed its training on procedures to be adopted for dealing with disruptive passengers. “ If any passenger disturbs decorum in the aircraft, we will take action,” the executive added.