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Exclusive | Captain on IndiGo flight says Kunal Kamra was not unruly, questions ban by airline

The captain has asked the airline for a clarification.

January 30, 2020 / 08:47 PM IST

The captain on the flight that saw the Kunal Kamra-Arnab Goswami episode playing out, has observed in his communication to IndiGo that the stand-up comedian never endangered safety or disobeyed any instructions.

Moneycontrol has seen a copy of the email sent by the captain to the airline and is not naming the captain to protect his identity.

"I do not find the aforementioned events reportable in any way. Mr Kamra's behaviour, while unsavoury, was not qualifying of a level 1 unruly passenger. Indeed we pilots can all attest to incidents similar and/or worse in nature that were not deemed unruly."

He adds: "Furthermore, I was disheartened  to learn that my airline has taken action in this case solely on the basis of social media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the pilot in command. This is somewhat unprecedented in my nine years of airline flying."

"Moving forward, am I to understand that the bar for interpretation of a disruptive passenger is lower/different when it comes to high profile cases?... I would like a clarification from the airline as this leaves a lot of room for ambiguity," he signs off.


Moneycontrol has reached out to IndiGo. The company said, "We have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident."

When contacted, the captain declined to comment.

The episode took place on January 28, when stand-up comedian Kamra approached Republic TV Editor Arnab Goswami during the flight and made a video of the encounter.

The comedian uploaded the video later on Twitter, soon after which IndiGo banned him from flying with the airline for six months.

Later, Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir also followed suit, banning the standup comic but for an unspecified period.

The communication

Following is the verbatim of what the captain said in his communication to Capt. XXXX , VP- Flight Ops, IndiGo:

Good evening Captain, This email is to address the events that occurred on 6E5317, BOM-LKO on 28.01.2020. After pushback I was informed by the LCA that 2 gentlemen were involved in a verbal altercation and that it had been noticed prior to commencement of the flight. One was seated on 13A (Mr. Kunal Kamra) and the other on 1B (Mr. Arnab Goswami). I was informed that Mr. Kamra had tried to engage with Mr. Goswami, who did not respond.

Mr. Kamra was asked by the LCA to return to his seat as the safety demonstrations were underway and the seat belt signs were on. Upon receiving this instruction, Mr. Kamra apologised to the LCA and returned to his seat. After passing 10,000 ft, the cabin crew commenced their preparations for service, but the seat belt signs remained on the entire flight. After the start of cabin service, the flight deck was contacted by the LCA to inform us that Mr. Kamra was back in the passenger aisle by Row 1 speaking in a raised voice to Mr. Goswami. She mentioned that she was informed by a passenger that Mr. Kamra had briefly used abusive language.

Upon hearing this I turned the surveillance on from the cockpit to observe the events at Row 1. I noticed Mr. Kamra gesticulating to Mr. Goswami who was unresponsive. I did not observe any physical contact between the two gentlemen at any point. At this time I made a Passenger Address to the cabin asking the gentleman standing in the passenger aisle near Row 1 to return to his seat, and that any disagreements they may have could be sorted out on the ground after the conclusion of the flight.

Mr. Kamra upon hearing this immediately apologised again to the LCA, relayed an apology to me via the LCA and subsequently returned to his seat. A few minutes after this, I turned on the surveillance again to check the status of the forward cabin area. I noticed a number of passengers crowding around the forward area waiting to use the lavatory and - in my opinion - to get a better look at Mr. Goswami. I noticed a passenger try to talk to Mr. Goswami. Not wanting to exacerbate this developing pattern, I made another Passenger Address reminding passengers that the seatbelt signs were still on and that we were expecting turbulence. I asked them to return to their seats, fasten their seatbelts and request the cabin crew for assistance if they needed to use the lavatories.

Upon making the announcement, the passengers vacated the forward galley, returned to their seats and a return to normalcy was observed. I then asked the LCA to speak with Mr. Goswami and inform him that the Flight Deck send their regards, and that if he wished to lodge a complaint, we would be happy to assist him after landing in Lucknow. He was also offered extra F&B. He thanked the LCA and acknowledged the offer. After the flight when most passengers had deplaned, Mr. Kamra requested permission to enter the flight deck to speak with me to personally apologise again. He did so. I asked him if his issue was political in nature, which he confirmed. I advised him that while we are all entitled to our opinions, there was a time and place to voice them, and that mid-flight was no place for it. He agreed, thanked us and left the aircraft.

The flight deck crew briefly encountered Mr. Kamra again outside the LKO terminal where we were waiting for Hotel Transport. He apologised again and left. While Mr. Kamra’s behaviour was unacceptable and verbally abusive, at no point did he not comply with Crew instructions. While he did briefly display Level 1 traits for Disruptive behaviour (ICAO Doc 9811), he was also immediately compliant of crew instruction, was never issued a red warning card and hence cannot be classified as such.

Furthermore, in-line with the IndiGo SEP Manual guidelines for Disruptive Behaviour, the situation was diffused, the passenger in question kept under observation and the cabin kept in lockdown for the duration of the flight. Hence, no further action on the part of the Cockpit Crew was required. The LCA advised me she would be filing a report on her end in-line with Cabin Crew guidelines.

As Captain of 6E5317 BOM-LKO on 28.01.2020, I do not find the aforementioned events reportable in any way. Mr. Kamra’s behaviour while unsavoury, was NOT qualifying of a Level 1 Unruly passenger. Indeed we pilots can all attest to incidents similar and/or worse in nature that were not deemed Unruly.

Furthermore, I was disheartened to learn that my Airline has taken action in this case solely on the basis of Social Media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the Pilot-in-Command. This is somewhat unprecedented in my 9 years of Airline flying. Moving forward, am I to understand that the bar for interpretation of a Disruptive passenger is lower/different when it comes to high profile cases? Perhaps the SEP Manual is to be amended to reflect this? I would like a clarification from the Airline as this leaves a lot of room for ambiguity.

Thank you.

Yours Sincerely,

Capt. XXXX

Meanwhile,  Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said he had expressed his "views" with regard to "the unruly behavior of a passenger on board".

"I reiterate that Airlines must ensure"Zero Tolerance" for any activity which has the potential to jeopardize safety of Passengers in an Aircraft," Puri said in a tweet.

Earlier on January 28, after IndiGo had said that it was suspending Kamra from flying with the airlines for six months, Puri had tweeted, "offensive behaviour designed to provoke and create disturbance" inside an aircraft "is absolutely unacceptable & endangers safety of air travellers".

"We are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned," Puri had said.

(This story has been updated with latest developments) 
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Jan 30, 2020 05:34 pm
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