Tuesday, 9 September 2014

India's mile 'high' club needs to be grounded?

Desis and free daaru have a deep and meaningful connection, which is why the merits of flying international are very different for Indian passengers and their international co-flyers. Over time, we're used to reading reports of passengers being found in an overly drunk state, the latest being the incident of an Air India passenger who managed to bite and tear clothes of the people who were trying to control him mid-air. Our desi international flyers, like this guy, are of such 'high' standards that they could give major competition to the drunk and out-ofcontrol Leonardo DiCaprio from the flight scene in The Wolf Of Wall Street. In fact, much like the movie, the latest drunk Indian passenger was tied to his seat by the cabin crew and his co-passengers using cables and wires found on the flight.

This incident once again brought up the debate of stricter on-flight rules and the need for enforcing practices like plastic handcuffs and a per-passenger drink limit. DT spoke to crew members of different international airlines about the unsaid rules of dealing with drunken passengers, their worst daaru experiences, and their jugaads to keep the high flyers in control in the absence of stricter rules.We also found many embarrassed travellers who're sick of defending desis in front of videshi cabin crew, which, they say , becomes even more difficult after they see swearing and sloshed flyers spread across the aisle!

No handcuffs, but enough jugaads to handle rowdies

In the aforementioned case, the cabin crew, with the help of heftier co-pas sengers, managed to bring the drunk en passenger under control by tying him to his seat with ropes and cables.

And according to the staff, they have their jugaads till the authorities per mit the use of plastic handcuffs on board. Tanmay Trivedi*, an airline at tendant with Air India, tells us, "The problem with Indian passengers trav elling with us is that get too comfort able. Unko lagta hai ki kyunki sarkaari airline hai, national carrier hai, toh phir waise hi behave karte hain, jaise unhone Air India choose kar ke ehsaan kiya hai. We keep hearing these lines all the time — 'Tum toh apne ho, inter national walon jaise kyun ban rahe ho'. A few drinks later, the attitude com pletely changes, jaise ticket nahi, air line khareed li ho unhone. But unlike what they assume, our flights are very strict too. We observe the passenger's condition and limit drinks. In case we think people are going overboard, we warn them very sternly. We don't have plastic handcuffs, but even then, we have used other jugaads like seatbelts to bring drunken flyers under control."

The crew keeps a check on the number of drinks being served to every passenger

Sakshi Mehta*, a crew member with a German airline, says, "In a flight, we have serving areas divided. Passengers try to outsmart the staff and ask dif ferent flight attendants for drinks." "They hope that the new guy won't know how many drinks the passenger has already been served. But when serving liquor, the staff discusses each passenger and keeps a check on who has had how much. With time and experience, you can make out who's had enough and then you stop serving them. With desis, it's better to be polite and apologetic, and then stop serving, instead of being rude. We use this approach and stop serving alcohol when we think a passenger has had enough," says Sakshi.

Intervene in extreme cases

Different airlines have different policies on putting a cap on the number of drinks passengers have. Aniket Taneja*, a cabin crew member with Qatar Airlines, tells us, "Yes, we do have passengers on flights who end up drinking more than they should, but we intervene only in extreme cases. Every passenger has their own capacity, and since we can't generalise, there are no written rules. If a passenger is drunk and sleeping, we're okay with that, but if he makes any of the co-passengers uncomfortable, then we have to stop them. There are unsaid rules to keep a check on people, and if you know someone is having alcohol, you check on them more than other passengers. But we don't tell them they've had enough unless it's an extreme situation."

Foreign crews consider Indians worst drunks

Nidhi Aggarwal, a Gurgaon-based jewellery designer, is a frequent flyer and also a frequent defender of the reputation of Indian passengers for many years now. She says, "I've been on so many different airlines and every time, because of some drunken passenger or the other, I've heard the cabin crew discuss how Indians are the worst when it comes to alcohol. Initially, I'd try and tell them that they shouldn't generalise, firangs also drink a lot, but nobody was ever convinced. I've seen people behaving like animals on flights, and you'd think that if someone's flying international, you'd expect them to be educated, well off and able to handle their drink, but no.The worst experience was when I was coming back from Moscow and this middle aged sardaarji was so sloshed, he peed right there on the aisle! Sure, he was penalised, taken away from that area and punished, but the damage was done. The flight was stinking and everyone was talking about how pathetic desi flyers are."

Air marshals under cover

Abhinav Rajsingh's work takes him to many international destinations and seeing a drunken desi going out of control is a regular part of his travels. He tells us, "There are different kinds of desis that you meet on different routes, but this 'I am on an international flight, give me booze' mentality is common to them all. My strangest encounter was on a flight from Nairobi to India, when two drunk unclejis lost it. They got up mid-flight and started saying, 'Plane main chalaunga'. Thankfully, international flights are prepared to handle such passengers. In this particular flight, there were two six foot, hatte-katte air marshals dressed in casual clothes. They're armed and trained to deal with issues more difficult than drunk, wannabe pilots. Unko dekh ke, dono uncles had to sober down."

If you run out of liquor, they open their own bottles

Even if the airlines have a limit on the number of drinks and alcohol served on flights, Indian flyers have ways to cross that hurdle too. Gautam Garg, who has his own start up, tells us, "On a flight from Bangkok to India, there was this group of men who were visibly tipsy. So the airline stopped serving alcohol, saying that they were out of stock. That didn't stop these men, and they opened the duty-free alcohol they were carrying. The air hostess told them that this was illegal and that they'd be fined. But I don't think in their drunken condition, they understood or cared. While it was one extended party for them, they made the whole journey unpleasant for other flyers."

(*Names changed on request)

Legal action for unruly passengers

Talking about the recent Air India incident, a CISF spokesperson said, "A passenger misbehaved with the crew and fellow passengers mid-air. The information was given by the pilot to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Airport Operations Control Center (AOCC). When the flight landed at IGI Airport, the CISF airport team reached there and took charge of the passenger and handed him over to the police. The police has registered an FIR against him under Sections 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) of the IPC. The complainant here is the airline." About how often such cases result in police complaints, he said, "If a complaint against a passenger for unruly behaviour is registered, then the required action, like frisking and lodging an FIR, is taken, but there are times when the complaint is not registered. In such cases, the unruly passenger is allowed to go after a warning."

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