Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ravindra Gaikwad's ban from airlines: DGCA needs institutional mechanisms to fight hooliganism

If you answer to the name of Ravindra Gaikwad, are not the (in)famous Member of Parliament from Osmanabad, and intend to take a domestic flight, beware. With no specific mechanism in place to bar an individual from flights, India’s airlines seem to have played to the gallery, never mind the legalities or even the practical difficulties in implementing the ban on the MP. Shiv Sena’s Ravindra Gaikwad was banned from all domestic flights on Friday, after Air India and private airlines united and barred him from coming on board. The MP had to finally leave for Pune on a Rajdhani. The airlines were reacting to Gaikwad hitting an Air India staffer with his sandal on Thursday, after refusing to disembark from a flight at Delhi. The MP was travelling on an open ticket from Pune and was miffed at not being allotted a business-class seat on the all-economy flight.
First, it is not clear if the ban is restricted to Gaikwad’s domestic air travel or will also apply to overseas flights by Indian airlines. Second, is it indefinite?
On the very day that airlines decided to ban Gaikwad from flying, a peculiar situation developed. The crew of a leading airline was on ‘pins and needles’ yesterday evening as there were clear instructions to stop the MP from boarding this flight to Pune and their checklist showed an 'R Gaikwad' booked on this flight. Imagine the crew’s relief when the gentleman in question actually turned out to be “an old man travelling with family,” said a person close to developments. This person said the crew allowed this individual on the flight before confirming he was not the barred MP since the photo of the MP had been circulated beforehand. But how will Air India or any private airline actually implement this decision for other such bans in future?
The violence unleashed by Gaikwad is condemnable in the strongest possible manner but now, after the airlines’ unilateral decision to bar him from flying, countless other men christened ‘Ravindra Gaikwad’ could well face harassment when they want to next take a flight to anywhere in this country. There is no fool proof mechanism in place to implement such a ban, how does only the intended Ravindra Gaikwad get barred from boarding a flight?

An airline veteran spoke of the need to make some sort of identification mandatory while booking domestic tickets, saying linking the process to Aadhar or a passport identification could be a possible solution. If this happens, it is feasible to just block a particular Aadhar number from booking an airline ticket, otherwise the process will remain arbitrary.
25/03/17 Sindhu Bhattacharya/First Post