You may like Kunal Kamra, the stand-up comedian who was suspended by IndiGo, Air India and now, SpiceJet from flying. Or, you may not like him and his views on politics.
But was IndiGo going by the rule books in suspending Kamra, within hours of him uploading a video in which the comedian tries to engage with Arnab Goswami, editor of Republic TV.
And how about Air India and SpiceJet? Kamra was not even their customer.
Let's first discuss IndiGo's decision.
"The contract of carriage of the airline has such language under which I think they put him on their own no-fly list," says Ajay Awtaney, Editor of Indian aviation website, livefromalounge.com.
This is what IndiGo says in its "Condition of Carriage," which can be found on its website.
"If, in IndiGo’s opinion, a customer conducts himself aboard the aircraft so as to endanger the aircraft or any person or property on board, or obstruct the crew in the performance of their duties, or fail to comply with any instructions of the crew, including but not limited to those with respect to smoking, alcohol or drug consumption, or behave in a manner which causes discomfort, inconvenience, damage or injury to other customers or the crew, IndiGo may take such measures as it deems reasonably necessary to prevent continuation of such conduct, including restraint. Such a customer may be disembarked and refused onward carriage at any point, and may be prosecuted for offences committed on board the aircraft."
Going by the contract, it looks like the country's largest airline was going by the rules, when it suspended Kamra for six months. This is what the airline said while announcing the suspension.
@MoCA_GoI @HardeepSPuri In light of the recent incident on board 6E 5317 from Mumbai to Lucknow, we wish to inform that we are suspending Mr. Kunal Kamra from flying with IndiGo for a period of six months, as his conduct onboard was unacceptable behaviour. 1/2
— IndiGo (@IndiGo6E) January 28, 2020
In its second tweet, in the same thread, the airline added, "Hereby, we wish to advise our passengers to refrain from indulging in personal slander whilst on board, as this can potentially compromise the safety of fellow passengers."
Looks fair. Moneycontrol reached out to IndiGo's communications team to understand if indeed the airline had used the contract of carriage rule book to suspend the comedian. The team member was unreachable.
But advocate Yeshwanth Shenoy, who has had several run-ins with airlines and industry regulator DGCA on safety issues, begs to differ.
Shenoy stresses that IndiGo has to follow rules laid down by DGCA in its Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) guidelines. According to the CAR, this is what an airline has to do:
"The crew has to inform the pilot about an unruly passenger. The pilot then prepares a report and submits to the company. Now, the company needs to constitute a committee, which should be chaired by a retired district and session judge and should also include a representative from another airline. It should also have another representative, this time from "a passengers association or consumer association or retired officer of Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum."
The committee then has to submit a report within 30 days.
Now, here is the interesting part. The CAR says that even as the committee investigates, the airline can suspend the "unruly passenger from flying, but such period may not exceed a period of 30 days."
It is unclear if IndiGo has set up a committee to investigate the incident. Also, how did the airline decide on the six-month suspension period?
How about Air India and SpiceJet?
Shenoy weighs in again. The CAR guidelines are clear about an airline banning passengers flying another carrier.
If the committee finds the passenger guilty, he or she will be banned according to the level of the offence. There are four levels, starting from a ban of three months to up to the time as decided by the Ministry of Home Affairs. And the passenger will be put on a no-fly list.
The list is maintained by DGCA.
Now the critical part. The regulation says that 'other' airlines (like Air India and SpiceJet in this instance), have the option to ban the passenger only after he or she is placed on the no-fly list.
There it is. Did IndiGo set up a committee? Why did Air India and SpiceJet ban Kamra even though he was not flying with them?
Right now, around 21 hours after Kamra uploaded the now-infamous video on Twitter, questions remain on the procedure airlines followed in debarring the comedian.