Kunal Kamra at his residence in Dadar. Express Photo by Janak Rathod. 28.02.2018. Mumbai.
Putting a question mark on the process by which IndiGo banned Kunal Kamra for six months, after the comedian confronted journalist Arnab Goswami on its Mumbai-Lucknow flight Tuesday, the pilot in charge has conveyed to the airline that he was “disheartened to learn that my airline has taken action in this case solely on the basis of social media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the Pilot-in-Command”.
In his e-mail, Rohit Mateti, the pilot-in-command, describes the incident in detail and points out that while Kamra’s behaviour was “unacceptable and verbally abusive”, he complied with the crew’s instructions — and the offence “cannot be classified” even in the Level 1 category.
“While he did briefly display Level 1 traits for disruptive behaviour... he was also immediately compliant of crew instruction, was never issued a red warning card and hence cannot be classified as such. Furthermore, in-line with the IndiGo SEP (security & emergency procedures) Manual guidelines for Disruptive Behaviour, the situation was defused, the passenger in question kept under observation and the cabin kept in lockdown for the duration of the flight. Hence, no further action on the part of the Cockpit Crew was required,” the pilot wrote.
The rules define three categories of unruly behaviour: Level 1 refers to behaviour that is verbally unruly, and calls for debarment upto three months; Level 2 indicates physical unruliness and can lead to the passenger being debarred from flying for upto six months; Level 3 indicates life-threatening behaviour where the debarment would be for a minimum of two years.
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In the e-mail, Mateti noted that after the aircraft’s pushback, he was informed by the lead cabin attendant (LCA) that Kamra and Goswami were involved in a verbal altercation and that it had been noticed prior to the commencement of the flight.
Kamra tried to engage with Goswami, who did not respond, and the former was then asked by the LCA to return to his seat. “Upon receiving this instruction, Mr. Kamra apologised to the LCA and returned to his seat,” Mateti wrote.
I did this for my hero...
I did it for Rohit pic.twitter.com/aMSdiTanHo
— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) January 28, 2020
The pilot wrote that while the altercation continued and Kamra was observed using abusive language, he did not observe any physical contact between Kamra and Goswami. At this point, the pilot addressed the passengers asking Kamra to return to his seat, after which the comedian apologised to the crew and returned to his seat.
“I then asked the LCA to speak with Mr. Goswami and inform him that the Flight Deck send their regards, and that if he wished to lodge a complaint, we would be happy to assist him after landing in Lucknow. He was also offered extra F&B (food & beverages). He thanked the LCA and acknowledged the offer,” the pilot wrote.
Mateti ended his e-mail by seeking a clarification from the airline: “Moving forward, am I to understand that the bar for interpretation of a Disruptive passenger is lower/different when it comes to high profile cases? Perhaps the SEP Manual is to be amended to reflect this? I would like a clarification from the airline as this leaves a lot of room for ambiguity”.
Mateti did not respond to a message from The Indian Express seeking comment. Responding to a query on whether IndiGo had received a complaint from the pilot before banning Kamra, the airline said: “We have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident.”
Government sources said IndiGo’s decision was in contravention of laid-down norms, which state that an airline can refer an incident of on-board unruliness to its internal committee only after receiving a complaint from the pilot-in-command.
IndiGo’s ban is also not in line with regulations, which stipulate that pending a decision by an internal committee of the airline, it “may ban such unruly passenger from flying, but such period may not exceed a period of 30 days”. The onus of deciding the duration for which the passenger will be banned lies with the committee.
Following the IndiGo ban, three other airlines — Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir — followed suit by suspending Kamra’ flying rights indefinitely.
Sanjiv Kapoor, who was Vistara’s former Chief Commercial Officer until recently, said airlines can refuse carriage for a particular flight to a passenger who is inebriated, late, or abusive. “But to ban for a period is very different. That decision is not up to the airline alone — the DGCA has a clearly defined process for how such bans need to be put in place,” Kapoor said.