Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Six Miles Above Mother Earth

NEW DELHI: The Maharaja witnessed his first in-flight Mughal-e-Azam at 30,000 feet above sea level on Saturday, as two members of the cabin crew—one male and one female—slugged it out with the pilot and co-pilot, endangering the lives of 106 passengers and grossly violating safety norms, the airline staffers came to blows in the cockpit and galley of the Indian Airlines Airbus A-320 as the aircraft cruised over Pakistan en route to Delhi via Lucknow from Sharjah.

The cabin-vs-cockpit tiff originated on the ground in Sharjah itself and then turned into a full-blown fight once IC 884 took off soon after midnight.

The cabin crew alleged that pilots harassed a 24-year-old female colleague who later filed a molestation complaint against them with the cops after the flight landed in Delhi.

The pilots, on the other hand, accused a male flight purser of misconduct that seriously compromised flight safety, and said the accusation of molestation aimed to protect the complainant's purser friend—who has a commercial pilot licence (CPL)—from facing action.

No party denied that blows and abuses were exchanged as bewildered passengers looked on. Sources said that the female cabin crewmember and the co-pilot sustained bruises.

Confirming the in-flight fight, Air India said it had ordered an inquiry and had grounded the staff members involved. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has also ordered a probe.

There were unconfirmed reports that at one stage the cockpit was unmanned, as the crew was busy fighting outside. Things allegedly degenerated to the point where the captain threatened to divert the plane to Karachi, likening the situation, sources said, to a "hijack".

In Sharjah, the cabin crew went to meet Captain Ranbir Arora and co-pilot Aditya Chopra for the pre-flight briefing. Both sides give different versions of what happened after this.

The cabin crew lobby said that after the initial tension on the ground in Sharjah, when the woman crew member went into the cockpit, one of the pilots held her hand and then pushed her out of the cockpit.

"She hit the cockpit door with such force that she started bleeding. When Amit Khanna, the purser, saw her in this condition, he went to the cockpit to ask what was happening. At this point, the pilots got abusive and started a fight with him," said a representative of the IA cabin crew, who added that the actual fight took place on the Lucknow-Delhi segment.

Pilot sources claimed that despite his CPL, Khanna could not get a pilot's job due to the downturn.

"The airhostess had announced flying time from Sharjah to Lucknow as per the schedule, and not the actual one that the commander gives. After taking off, the pilot scolded the airhostess and then called Amit to the cockpit," said a source.

Khanna, the source added, entered the cockpit angrily and that's when the fight started. "He became abusive, and tempers ran high in the cockpit. Given the highly unsafe situation there, the commander said he would divert to Karachi, to which Amit retorted, 'Jahan le jaana hai, le jaao, is aircraft ko main bhi uda loonga (take it wherever you want to, I can also fly)'," a pilot representative said, adding that the fight occurred over Pakistan, while the plan was flying from Sharjah to Lucknow. The woman crew member, the source explained, got bruised when she entered the cockpit in the melee.

The cockpit was cleared, with pilots pushing out Amit and then locking the door. After that, the plane landed in Lucknow at around 4.30 am. "Amit then apologized to the pilots, and they took off for Delhi so that the flight wasn't delayed. He later got the woman crew member to level charges of molestation to avoid action for making a hostile entry into the cockpit," said a source speaking on behalf of the pilots.

The police are investigating the woman's complaint and have registered a case against the pilot and co-pilot. "There are several eyewitnesses and we are recording their statements," said joint CP (operations) Satyendra Garg. The police had the victim examined at Safdarjung Hospital, where her bruises were confirmed. A case was registered, among others, under Section 354 for outraging the modesty of a woman.

The DGCA is fuming at the gross violation of safety norms on IC 884. "The airline didn't even inform us of this incident in time. We're going to summon the crew members on Monday. This incident is shocking and we may need to take exemplary action," said a senior official.

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What I must add:

The stewardess should have been fired right away for not realising that most pilots (and male passengers too, thank you) indulge in sexual harassment. Pilots are normal people just like doctors who go for pretty nurses, and bosses who fall for voluptuous secretaries.

Then there is the dimension of having a disgruntled purser who could not get in as a pilot in the airlines; frustration can make people do strange things, and it did this time. The pilots risk losing their licences, while the cabin crewmembers (they do not have licenses) may be asked to serve their mothers and fathers at home.

If we look deeper, sexual harassment is very much a part of the colourful Indian culture. The suggestive film songs, the Holi-Diwali celebrations and mixed gatherings for worship, all have something going on behind them. How could the culturally-conditioned pilots and the equally dreamy stewardess not be expected to apply for the membership of that infamous club that operates six miles above the surface of the Dharti Ma (Earth)?

We are not told if the stewardess broke into Lata’s famous song ‘Baiyan na dharo, O sajna’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8vsJi-VUuM), by changing the words to ‘Baiyan na dharo, O pilotwa’ when a pilot attempted to bite the hand that served him?

Since militant outfits—especially Al-CIAda—get the blame for everything these days, a possible link must be found behind the pilots’ desire to land in Pakistan. Our interior Minister and their counterpart, I am sure, will soon get into hurling accusations at one another—something that they are paid to do.

There are girls who think that every time a man speaks to them, their modesty is outraged; that is an outrageously ‘mod’ assumption. Observe that if a woman screams for help, a hundred men run to rescue her but the moment a man lands himself into trouble, women continue with the gossip as if nothing happened. What a genetically imbalanced world we live in!

In the field of aviation, pilots get justifiably upset when someone diverts their attention from the sensitive job of taking off or landing. As if the FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS signs are not enough, we will soon have signs that will warn passengers about rising temperatures (glow-bull warming) on the flight deck; these could be: STEWARDESS ‘HOT’, PILOTS TURNED ‘ON’, or whatever the Airbus and the Boeing people decide to incorporate into the designs of their new age commercial jets. We could have a new range of onboard announcements, whose contents I will leave to your own imagination, lest I am accused of corrupting the youth at this website.

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Read other ARTICLES by the author to find out why he is banned on Chowq's front page

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