By Sandeep Sahu
The ugly incident at the New Delhi airport in which Shiv Sena MP from Osmanabad (Maharashtra) Ravindra Gaekwad thrashed a senior Air India (AI) official with his sandals in full view of the crew has had at least one good fall-out. It has revived the call for a ‘no fly’ list of unruly passengers who are in the habit of creating nuisance while flying. A spokesperson for the public carrier has said AI is “examining the creation of a no-fly list of unruly passengers.”
Seven airlines, including the AI, have now banned the rogue MP, who pounced on the hapless AI duty manager R Sukumar, while IndiGo has done well to cancel his ticket to Pune booked for Friday, leaving him with no option but to take the train. [The TTE on the train he takes on his journey back home must already be sweating at the prospect of having the man as one of his passengers!)
What Gaekwad did in the aircraft was condemnable; but what he did afterwards was even more reprehensible. When asked about the incident by a reporter, he actually had the cheek to correct the latter saying “Maine use chappal se nahin, sandal se maara, kaan ke neeche baja dala”) (“I did not hit him with shoes, but with sandals; below the ears”. He then went on to brag that he hit the 60-year old AI staffer “25 times”!
And pray what did Sukumar do to deserve this humiliation? He had the audacity to request the ‘(dis)honourable’ MP to get off the plane so that over a 100 waiting passengers could board the aircraft that was to leave for Goa soon. But the MP kept insisting that the CMD – or, at the very least, a director level official – of the AI be summoned to listen to his grievance. And what was the grievance, by the way? That he was made to fly economy class though he had a business class ticket.
AI ground staffs have said that it had been made clear to the Osmanabad MP, who had an open ticket, long before he boarded the plane that there was no business class in this particular flight. He was also requested to take the next flight leaving in an hour’s time if he insisted on flying business class. But the MP would have none of it. He boarded the aircraft and then waited till it reached New Delhi before venting his ire of the AI staff. He not only refused to apologise for his boorish behavior but demanded instead that Sukumar apologise to him!
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Though there were no passengers on the plane at the time the incident took place, it would be a huge mistake to take it as case between the rogue MP and the airlines. After all, 115 passengers were waiting to board the aircraft that was to take off for Goa in less than an hour. In the event, the flight to Goa got delayed by nearly an hour.
Unruly VIPs, used as they are to special privileges, routinely make life difficult for fellow passengers – not just on flights or trains, but just about any public place. When one reads about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau riding a bicycle to office or sees pictures of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin filling his car tank at a gas station himself, one gets the feeling that they belong to another planet altogether.
While the steps taken by the airlines are welcome, it would be a pity if they, especially AI, back off under political pressure. The airlines must stand firm and make sure this man never gets onto an aero plane ever again. For far too long, we have tolerated this obnoxious VIP culture, which just does not fit into India’s claim as a democracy, and it is time we put an end to it for good. This is a golden opportunity to put our so called Very Important Persons (VIPs), who almost always behave like Very Ill-mannered Persons (VIPs), in their place and drill it into the minds of our lawmakers that they are not above the law.