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No-fly list yet to take off as airlines lack system to identify offenders

Arindam Majumder / New Delhi 03 Oct 17 | 05:18 PM

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Remember Ravindra Gaikwad, the infamous Shiv Sena MP who became the first person to be barred by Indian airlines from flying for unruly behaviour? The incident prompted the government to revise guidelines to handle unruly passenger by allowing airlines to ban them. But India's 'no-fly list' is yet to take off as airlines find it difficult to identify offenders and the process is too cumbersome.

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Further, public cases like Gaikwad's and the resultant fallout have not completely stopped incidents of objectionable behaviour from flyers. This Sunday, Bollywood singer Udit Narayan's son, Aditya Narayan, allegedly got into an argument with IndiGo ground staff and abused them at Raipur airport after he was asked to cough up Rs 13,000 for excess baggage. 

Narayan, who is a singer, actor, and TV host, was booked on a flight from Raipur to Mumbai on Sunday morning. At the time of check-in at the airport, he was asked to pay for extra baggage weighing 40 kg, which led to a heated argument between him and IndiGo ground staff, the airline said in a statement. 

While, according to agency reports, Sunday's alleged incident involving the actor-singer does not come under the purview of the current mechanism to deal with unruly passengers, as it occurred on the airport premises and not onboard the aircraft, airlines have found it difficult to enforce the 'no-fly list' rules that deal with such behaviour onboard flights too. 

ALSO READ: Watch: Aditya Narayan misbehaves with IndiGo staff, apologises later

While the government had planned to make a government identity card mandatory for booking air tickets, the idea was dropped from the final regulations on the no-fly list. "It is impossible to identify a habitual offender and put him on a blacklist if we don't have proper details on him. Just like a passport is mandatory for booking international tickets, details of identification should be made compulsory for domestic bookings,"  a senior airline executive said.

In fact, according to the minutes of meetings reviewed by Business Standard, the problem of identifying an offender was repeatedly raised by airlines while framing the regulations. "It is pertinent to note that details such as Aadhar card, passport number, voter ID are not asked from passengers. The success of preparing a no-fly list is possible if details of identification are mandated," airline lobby group Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) said.

Moreover, airline booking systems are not prepared to stop an offender from checking in at the counter. "A single identification card is a must. What happens if a passenger who has been barred is inadvertently allowed due to multiple identity cards that he possesses because they are not available with the airline database?" asked an Air India executive.

ALSO READ: No-fly list: Unruly passengers barred from flying for 3 months to 2 years

IndiGo, which carries the most number of passengers in Indian skies, said that a barred flyer should be stopped while booking a ticket itself as he may check-in via web and directly board the flight without reporting to the airline. "We need to consider situations where a flyer may not even report at check-in counters and simply board the flight. Higher level of technical integration is required at the booking stage itself," IndiGo said in its submission to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Airline executives have also highlighted the operational difficulty of carrying out the entire process — from reporting an offender to the cost of forming an enquiry committee. The government has proposed an appeals committee to be headed by a retired high court judge with members from passenger associations or retired consumer dispute forum officers and airline executives. 

"To form an internal committee will have cost implications as the members may not want to be a part of the committee without compensation," said a senior SpiceJet official.

Senior government officials said that, ideally, the no-fly list rules should have biometric identification compulsory but it did not happen due to the Supreme Court judgement on Aadhar. "We were deliberating on making Aadhar compulsory but did not take the risk as the case on Aadhar was sub-judice," said a senior ministry official.

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