Monday, January 09, 2023

Air India embarrassed by urination scandal

The head of India's Tata Sons conglomerate has expressed "anguish" over an incident in which a drunk man allegedly urinated on a female passenger on one of their flights.

The incident took place in late November on a Tata-run Air India flight. But it was reported only last week when the woman filed a complaint.

The news led to massive outrage in India with criticism of how Air India handled the incident.

The man was arrested over the weekend.

He was also fired from his job at US banking firm Wells Fargo.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran said the airline should have been swifter in its response.

"We will review and repair every process to prevent or address any incidents of such unruly nature," he said.

His statement came a day after Air India chief executive Campbell Wilson expressed "regret" and "pain" over its customers suffering due to "the condemnable acts of their co-passengers".

The incident took place on 26 November in the business class cabin of a New York-Delhi flight. The accused Shankar Mishra was allegedly drunk when he apparently urinated on one of his co-passengers, a 72-year-old woman.

"My clothes, shoes and bag were completely soaked in urine," the woman wrote in her complaint to Mr Chandrasekaran the next day.

The woman said she asked the crew for a change of seat, but was told that nothing was available and was instead offered a small seat used by staff. She alleged that the crew also brought the man to her - against her wishes - so he could apologise.

The woman described the flight as the most "traumatic" of her life, and said that the airline only issued her a partial refund of her ticket. Her account was supported by a US doctor named Sugata Bhattacharjee, who was sitting next to Mr Mishra on the flight.

He told news channel NDTV that he had also written a complaint to Air India on the day of the incident, but "it went nowhere".

After the incident, Air India formed an internal committee to investigate the complaint against Mr Mishra.

Two weeks later, it imposed a 30-day interim travel ban on him - the length of the ban was among the factors that generated outrage once the news broke.

On the request of the woman's family, the airline finally filed a police complaint regarding the incident on 28 December.

A week later, it submitted a report to India's aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Last week, the DGCA issued notices to the officials and crew of the flight, saying they had not complied with its rules for handling an unruly passenger on board. It also said the crew's conduct had been "unprofessional".

Air India has since de-rostered a pilot and four member of the cabin crew.

In his statement, Mr Wilson promised a robust reporting system for unruly behaviour on Air India.

09/01/23 Meryl Sebastian/BBC

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