The airlines’staff should be trained to walk that extra-mile to extend hospitality

The subject of airline staff conduct towards guests has dominated national headlines after images of IndiGo staff pushing a passenger, Rajiv Katyal, on October 15 on the tarmac of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi went viral on Tuesday. Images in the social media have prompted questions about the nodal civil aviation ministry and private aviation companies laying down the rules of engagement between supposedly unruly ground staff and unsuspecting passengers, presumably tired and tense after a long day in office or business.

The key issue at stake here is whether there was any provocation from Katyal to receive the treatment he did. The answer seems to be no. But the point is even if there was, there are better ways to handle a difficult situation. From images on the social media, it appeared that the staff of IndiGo prevented Katyal from boarding a bus to the terminal from tarmac after he arrived from Chennai. And what’s worse, ganged up to pin him down. Another related clip has passengers expressing outrage, seeking “dos and don’ts” for airlines and their staff, who are trained to walk the extra-mile to extend hospitality.

IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh has offered an unequivocal apology to the victim for alleged acts of high handedness, in addition to suspending and terminating the services of a couple of employees, including the one who filmed the act. Should that suffice or should IndiGo be penalised further, attracting provisions from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Some have even suggested that the Delhi Police file a suo moto FIR against the IndiGo staff. It is pertinent to recall that in March this year, Osmanabad MP Ravindra Gaikwad was deplaned and the Federation of Private Airlines imposed a ban on his flying for over three weeks after the law maker hit an Air India (AI) official with his footwear. Just because he was not offered a first class seat on a flight from Pune to New Delhi, the AI official not just faced the choicest of abuses, but was also taken to task. The AI chief, civil aviation minister, the Delhi Police and the Parliament were worked up over this unsavoury behaviour of the elected MP. The aftermath of this incident led to drawing up guidelines for passenger behaviour and the right of airlines to not fly customers who do not stick to basic decency and decorum. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had joined the battle, seeking relief for AI officials, who had faced Gaikwad’s wrath. Personnel of state-run Maharaja even threatened to strike unless Gaikwad apologised.

Well, the shoe is in the other foot now. Some critics have demanded that IndiGo airlines be banned from flying and taken off passenger routes as a punitive measure. Given that basic responsibility of ensuring air travellers safety is that of the airlines, IndiGo surely needs to be censured. The government and DGCA will have to come up with behavioural norms for airlines staff, as was done for passengers to ensure non-recurrence of such flare-ups.

Considering airlines’ passenger profile has undergone a big change and since air connectivity has gone regional and beyond state capitals, airlines will have to brace up for this rapid expansion. Even if the guests are uneducated farmers or workers, they cannot be treated any less, as aviation is a services industry. Finding innovative and sustainable solutions to aid the behaviour of aviation staff seems to be the big challenge for the airline industry.