Wow! And I thought air service couldn't get worse!
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 crew member 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.
And then they announced there was no more Curry Chicken!
Remind me not to fly this airline!