SC issues notice to DGCA on plea for guidelines to deal with unruly passengers

The petitioner said Air India and the DGCA had both failed to treat her with ‘care and responsibility’ after a passenger allegedly urinated on her on a flight

May 08, 2023 07:45 pm | Updated May 09, 2023 08:07 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. The apex court asked the DGCA to respond to a petition seeking clear and zero tolerance guidelines for civil authorities and airlines when faced with unruly behaviour by passengers on flights.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. The apex court asked the DGCA to respond to a petition seeking clear and zero tolerance guidelines for civil authorities and airlines when faced with unruly behaviour by passengers on flights. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on May 8 asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to respond to a petition seeking clear and zero tolerance guidelines for civil authorities and airlines when faced with unruly behaviour by passengers on flights.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud issued notice to the DGCA in the petition filed by a 72-year-old woman on whom a drunk passenger had allegedly relieved himself on her, in a New York-New Delhi Air India flight.

The petitioner, represented by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, said Air India and the DGCA had both failed to treat her with “care and responsibility” after a passenger allegedly urinated on her during the flight on November 26, 2022.

In fact, the woman has claimed the cabin crew “facilitated” the handing over of her mobile phone number to the man in order for him to “reimburse the cost of shoes, dry-cleaning, etc”. The petition said she was made to sit on the “very same seat that was wet and smelled of urine”. Her suffering was compounded when the crew “coerced her to enter into a settlement with the passenger who urinated on her”.

Also Read |Urinating incident | Co-flyer says Air India pilot made traumatised woman wait for 2 hours before allocating seat

“She continues to deal with the trauma of the incident,” the petition has said.

Unlike her case, the petitioner pointed out, how an unruly passenger on March 4 was promptly reported by the American Airlines to the Air Traffic Control which alerted the CISF and the Delhi Police. The police also took the person into custody as soon as he disembarked from the flight.

Statistics on unruly passengers

The petition referred to the statistics tabled in the Rajya Sabha on February 6, which show that only 63 unruly passengers were put in the ‘No Fly’ lists. The petition said there would be numerous more incidents with no action taken.

“With the world’s third highest air traffic, and with 132 airports, India needs to ensure that its passengers, both domestic and foreign can travel with a minimum of safety and security. Particularly with 150 million senior citizens forming a sizeable vulnerable group, positive steps need to be taken to make flying safe,” the petition said.

On media reports

The plea also highlighted how media reports on the incident concerning her were “full of conjectures and surmises”. She contended that these reports had “severely undermined her rights as a victim under Article 21, and in fairness, has also affected the rights of the accused as well”.

“Right to a free and fair trial was substantially affected due to a selective leaking of the AIR SEWA complaint. The FIR and selective witness statements were released to match specific narratives,” the petition said.

The petitioner asked the court to consider how media reports based on conjectures may affect sub judice cases in the absence of clear guidelines. It said media reportage of such incidents should be “postponed”.

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