Flyers break into song with drum, raise safety concerns

Pilots say onboard decorum needs to be maintained, but wary of retaliation

February 06, 2024 10:48 pm | Updated February 07, 2024 09:25 am IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representation.

Image for representation. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A video went viral on social media on Tuesday showing a passenger aboard an IndiGo aircraft singing a devotional song on Ram and playing the dholak as others joined him, leading to calls from pilots to end displays of “religious fervour” during flights as it could become a safety issue. Pilots point out it would be difficult to make vital announcements and very possibly create dangerous conflict.

In the viral video, a male passenger is seen playing the dholak (drum) placed in his lap and singing a version of the hymn, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram. He is also joined by others, some of whom are clapping along. The one minute and 25-second-long video ends as the singing approaches a crescendo. All this while, the seatbelt sign is on. It is not known how long the singing continued, or what route the aircraft was flying.

“Good order and discipline must be maintained as per the DGCA’s regulations. If someone complains about a song of a particular religion being sung, or about disturbance being created onboard, things could easily spiral out of control,” said Amit Singh, Founder of Safety Matters Foundation dedicated to aviation safety. He is also a pilot with an international airline.

He added that in such a situation it would also be difficult for the cabin crew to communicate important safety instructions to passengers, say if there was a turbulence. The DGCA didn’t respond to a query on whether it condoned such conduct. A response from IndiGo was awaited till the time of going to press.

Mass hysteria

“I would be concerned about such incidents onboard my flight. This kind of mass hysteria or religious fervour where passengers are in a state of excitement is completely avoidable,” said another senior pilot who flies for an Indian low-cost airline.

Another pilot employed with a full-service carrier said, “there is a need to impress on people that such displays of religiosity publicly, especially inside a confined space such as a train or an aircraft is unacceptable.”

Though the singing incident of Tuesday can’t be deemed as disruptive behaviour as per the DGCA’s rules on unruly passengers, all pilots The Hindu spoke to were unanimous in their view that it could easily escalate into an altercation mid-flight given sensitivities around religion. The DGCA’s rules categorise unruly behaviour into three types- verbally abusive, physically abusive and life threatening- and could result in a ban on flying for a period of three months to a lifetime.

Pilots said that in the current environment, it would not be easy for them to stop such religious activities even if they felt they were a threat to safety because doing so could backfire if someone retaliated, and could also harm the airline’s image.

How the rhombus-shaped dholak managed to find its way into the passenger cabin of an aircraft has puzzled some. According to IndiGo’s policy on hand baggage, the length, weight and height of an item should not be more than 115 cms. Baggage should also be placed either in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front. If the item doesn’t comply with the laid-down size specifications, but can fit in a seat, the airline can allow a passenger to buy an extra seat. The musical instrument has to be strapped to the seat during the flight, which it wasn’t in Tuesday’s video.

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