Most videos of unruly passengers that go viral are not usually made by them. Today, we face a case where Kunal Kamra, an allegedly "unruly passenger", posted a video on a social media platform and got himself on the No Fly List, banned by four major airline carriers.
The question of the hour is, who is an unruly passenger? The nation finds its answer in the Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3 of the Air Transport, Series M, Part IV, Handling of Unruly Passenger Rules, 2017 (Rules).
The Rules apply to all Indian operators engaged in scheduled and non-scheduled air transport service, both domestic and international, for carriage of passengers. The Rules define an unruly passenger as “a Passenger who fails to respect the rules of conduct at an airport or on board an aircraft or to follow the instructions of the airport staff or crew members and thereby disturb the good order and discipline at an airport or on board an aircraft”.
The Rules prescribes requirements to be followed by airlines while dealing with unruly passengers. Airlines are required to establish standard operating procedures, monitor potential unruly passengers, and exhaust all conciliatory approaches before resorting to restraining devices.
Pertinently, Para 4.9 requires that a passenger shall be made aware that in case his behaviour falls into one of the categories, he/she is likely to be arrested. Para 4.10 then further goes on to prescribe that airlines are to categorise all cases of unruly behaviour on board the craft in the following categories:
On board, the pilot-in-command is required to quickly assess if the cabin crew would be able to control the unruly passenger and inform the airline’s central control on the ground. In serious situations, pilots can land at alternate airstrips.
In a not-so-serious situation, the Rules prescribe that upon receipt of a complaint of unruly behaviour by the pilot-in-command, the airline may refer the incident to an Internal Committee. The Committee constituted by the airline is chaired by a retired District & Sessions Judge.
The Committee has a time limit of 30 days to decide the Level of the unruly passenger and the duration for which the passenger is on the No Fly List. In the event the Committee fails to render its decision within the prescribed 30 day time limit, the passenger is free to fly. While the Committee deliberates, the passenger's fate is in the hands of the airline. The airline has the right to ban an unruly passenger from flying for a maximum period of 30 days i.e. the entirety of the time given to the Committee to decide.
The duration of the ban depends on the Level the passenger has been classified in by the Committee. A Level 1 passenger faces up to 3 months of ban, Level 2 up to 6 months, and a Level 3 passenger can find his name on the No Fly List for life. With every subsequent offence, the maximum punishment is doubled.
The airline is required to intimate the banned passenger about his inclusion in the No Fly List along with the reasons thereof and the duration of the ban. Upon receipt of the communication of the ban, the passenger has 60 days to appeal before the Appellate Committee constituted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The decision of the Appellate Committee can be challenged before the High Court.
Coming to this nation’s second question, can airlines ban passengers for incidents that did not occur on their own flights?
Each airline is required to maintain a database of all unruly passengers and inform the same to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)/other airlines. The combined database of all airlines in maintained by the DGCA and called the No-Fly List. Once a person finds his name on the No-Fly List, other airlines can voluntarily opt to ban him/her from taking flights to/from/within India. What we see today is airlines ‘voluntarily’ opting in.
Whether talking to an uninterested passenger mid-air amounts to unruly behaviour or not is up to the Internal Committee to decide. However, it is clear that banning a passenger for a period of 6 months, that too via a tweet, is in clear contravention of the Rules in as much as it appears that no due process of law has been followed yet.
Also, a big question of violation of a passenger’s fundamental right to travel within India and abroad arises. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has time and again held that right to travel is part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Sameer Jain is the Founder & Managing Partner of PSL Advocates & Solicitors. Anant Gupta is an Associate at the firm.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Bar & Bench.