The Delhi Police on Saturday arrested Shankar Mishra, 34, the man who urinated over a senior citizen and co-traveller aboard an Air India flight in November, on a day the airline’s CEO Campbell Wilson expressed regret over the incident and the airline’s poor handling of it.
Mr. Mishra was arrested in Bengaluru after the Delhi Police formed four teams and deployed them across three cities. He was later brought to Delhi. While the police sought further extension of his custody, a Delhi court on Sunday sent him to 14 days judicial custody.
He told the police during his interrogation that he did not remember anything about the incident as he had “blacked out” during the flight.
Mr. Mishra’s versions to the police have been changing. At first he agreed that he was inebriated, but later denied it. He also said that he had been too tired when he boarded the flight and only vaguely remembered whatever had happened during the journey, a police source told The Hindu.
The developments unfolded on a day when Air India CEO Campbell Wilson finally issued a statement, four days after the incident came to the fore. There have been questions over the callous response of the airline, which did not report the man to the security forces after the flight from New York landed in Delhi on November 27, file an FIR, issue a warning to the passenger, or restrain him during the flight.
“We regret and are pained about these experiences. Air India acknowledges that it could have handled these matters better, both in the air and on the ground, and is committed to taking action,” Mr. Wilson said.
The CEO also announced that the airline had served show cause notices to four cabin crew and a pilot, and de-rostered them pending an investigation. There is also an internal investigation underway to examine lapses by the crew on aspects such as serving alcohol on the flight, handling of an incident, and registration of a complaint onboard, he said.
Certain corrective measures were also being undertaken, including a “comprehensive education programme to strengthen crews’ awareness of and compliance with policies on the handling of incidents and unruly passengers, and to better equip crew to empathetically assist those affected”. The airline will also review its policy on service of alcohol to its passengers, Mr. Wilson said.
In a separate letter to the airline’s employees, the CEO urged them to ensure “if an incident on our aircraft involves improper behaviour of such magnitude, we must report it to authorities at the earliest opportunity”. This, he said, must be ensured even when the crew believes that the matter has been settled between the parties involved. He also said that the matter was more complicated than had been reported in the press.
Both the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) as well as the Delhi Police are probing Air India for its failure to handover the errant passenger to security forces and report the incident, which is not contingent on a passenger’s willingness to file a complaint in her personal capacity, according to the airline’s Operations Manual as well as the DGCA’s own rules on the handling of unruly passengers.
The DGCA has served 20 show cause notices to Air India, its pilots and cabin crew for its “unprofessional conduct which led to a systemic failure”, and will be examining the airline’s failure to comply with cabin safety, Air India’s Operations Manual; Safety and Emergency Procedure Manual; and Quick Reference Handbook.
The police have issued summons to five Air India crew workers in order to understand the lapses alleged by the woman. “She said that she requested Air India to arrest the accused. However, no action was taken,” a police officer said.
The details of the complaint with the police contradict what sources in the airline have been saying about the woman passenger’s reluctance to report the incident and on arriving on a settlement with the offender.
The police complaint filed by Air India records that it was the cabin crew who insisted on her speaking to the offender. “I stated clearly that I didn’t want to interact with him or see his face, and that all I wanted was for him to be arrested on arrival. However, the crew brought the offender before me against my wishes,” the woman said. She said she was disoriented on seeing her perpetrator at close quarters but “because of his pleading and begging”, and her own “shock and trauma”, she found it “difficult to insist on his arrest”.
The woman passenger also asked the airline to reimburse her for her shoes and clothes, but the crew insisted that the airline had nothing to do with the incident and that the offender should pay, so they gave her number to him.