A video of an Indigo staffer assaulting a passenger is gaining a lot of attention and many people are upset. Whilst Indigo is not my favourite airline, I feel the need to weigh in on this matter as a former aviation professional as well as a frequent airline traveller.
Two Sides to Every Story
There are two sides to every story and one must wonder why the airline staff who is trained to handle irate passengers was provoked to violence. Did the passenger follow instructions or was he flouting rules? Aviation is a highly regulated industry where safety is concerned, and the airport Tarmac is not a safe place for people who don't know the regulations.
About 20 years, I joined the industry as a flight attendant. At the time, we used to serve alcohol and a ton of food to passengers in both classes of service. For free! Yet we were constantly at the receiving end of the bullying by our customers who didn't know how to consume alcohol whilst maintaining etiquette, fury over not getting a choice of their meal, impatience over a slight delay or an aircraft technical issue. They treated us like maids and their personal attendants. We used to privately joke that all that was left was for us to give the passengers a massage!
So when I read the jokes on social media about Indigo and other airlines and their treatment of passengers, I am perplexed to think how one-sided all of this is.
No doubt, many of these very same people are the ones who are rude when they are passengers. They scream and shout when they don't get their way and perpetuate a system where this seems to be the only process for redressal.
Recently, I was on a delayed flight from London to Amsterdam which resulted in a missed connection to Seattle. The entire hub operations of KLM was disrupted due to poor visibility conditions. There was no immediate auto routing and one had to go to the customer service desks to find out the revised itinerary. Despite the long waiting lines and uncertainty there was no screaming and yelling. Everybody respectfully waited their turn and worked it out with the ground staff.
Contrast it with India
With our sense of entitlement and low patience levels, we believe screaming and shouting will get us attention and immediate results. Airline staff are also human beings operating on available information and trying to do their best to resume normalcy in operations. No one likes a disruption and often during one, airline staff work extended shifts. So whilst I don't condone the behaviour of the Indigo staff, there has to be a reason why he reacted in the manner he did.
I am reminded of my own experience when during a diversion to Lucknow from Ahmedabad to Delhi, a group of men almost pushed me off the aircraft because they wanted to deplane. They were aggressive, would not listen to my explanation of airline regulations and thought they could bulldoze their way through. It remains one of the scariest experiences of my life.
I continuously work to amend the "disruptive passenger" definition to include sexual violence. This is important because passengers cannot get away with bad and inappropriate behaviour just because they have paid for their travel. An airport and an aircraft is a public space which must be safe and inclusive for all.
Instead of fuelling a trial by media let us also be introspective and examine our own behaviour and those of our fellow passengers. Is it respectful of the people we come in contact with - staff or others and is it in compliance with the law? And let us speak up for what is right in the right manner so that we all benefit from better customer service.