Air India on Tuesday said it had closed its internal investigations into the actions of its staff during the incident involving passenger Shankar Mishra, who allegedly urinated on his co-passenger on board flight from New York to Delhi on November 26.
The airline has termed the suspension of licence of pilot-in-command by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation as ‘excessive’ and said it would assist him with an appeal against the action.
In its statement, Air India said it took the complainant’s allegation ‘at face value’ and assisted her by providing fresh clothes, helped clean her belongings and relocated her to another business class seat of the same type as the original one.
The airline said the accused was ‘calm, co-operative and professed ignorance of the allegation’. Air India claimed Shankar Mishra had not been served excessive alcohol by crew and did not appear intoxicated as well.
According to the airline, The flight commander was kept regularly informed by cabin crew and the the “alleged perpetrator posed no risk to flight safety at any time”.
In its statement, Air India acknowledged that the matter should have been reported as a prima facie case of a passenger “…behaving in a disorderly manner toward… other passengers” and, as such, meeting the description of unruly behaviour at paragraph 4.9(d)(ii) of Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3, Series M, Part VI (the CAR). The matter should have been classified and reported as such, without prejudice to any subsequent investigation into the facts. The aviation regulator has imposed a ₹30 lakh fine on Air India for not complying with the rules.
“Upon receipt of the voyage report, ground staff did not challenge the crew’s assessment and, therefore, also did not report the matter as an unruly incident”, Air India said.
Reiterating that the accused was peaceful and claimed ignorance of his act, Air India claimed a resolution had been witnessed between the two parties and the crew made a judgment call to record the matter as an (non-reportable) inflight incident rather than a (reportable) case of unruliness.
“It should also be noted that, in the absence of witnesses to the alleged act, crew were being asked to make a presumption of the accused’s guilt which runs contrary to natural justice and due process”, it added.
Responding to the civil aviation regulator’s letter, Air India accepted it did not correctly classify the incident and therefore did not report it as required.
“The crew and ground staff have been issued warning letters to henceforth adhere strictly to CAR definition of “unruly” when reporting incidents onboard, so that later investigation can assess the facts. The cabin crew and ground staff have been counselled and have since returned to duty”, it added.
“Air India wishes to acknowledge the good faith efforts made by crew to handle the situation effectively in real time, when not all facts were available. It also notes that a contemporaneous written statement by a fellow business class passenger includes an explicit commendation of the actions of the cabin crew, and that his criticism of the pilot was in the context of not having been granted an upgrade”, the airline added further.