New Delhi: The knee-jerk reaction of various private airlines, including state-owned Air India, to ban stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra from flying, was confirmed on Thursday by the pilot-in-command of the IndiGo flight in which journalist Arnab Goswami was allegedly heckled by Kamra.
An email sent by the pilot to the IndiGo management details the events that day inside the Mumbai-Lucknow flight, which was video recorded and posted on Twitter by Kamra himself. Kamra admits to heckling Goswami just as he heckles people 24x7 on the news channels and later even issued a statement clarifying his position and saying he did not in any way obstruct the crew. His contention has now been confirmed by the IndiGo pilot, who has however termed Kamra’s behavior as “unsavoury.”
According to the pilot, who has not been named in the letter published in Money Control website; “As captain of 6E5317 Mumbai-Lucknow flight on January 28, I do not find...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.
When asked about the pilot-in-command's email, IndiGo told PTI: "We have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident."
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.