New Delhi:

The IndiGo pilot who operated the airline’s Mumbai-Lucknow flight last Tuesday on which stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra confronted anchor Arnab Goswami has questioned his airline’s action in a detailed email which goes on to ask if he is “to understand that the bar for interpretation of a disruptive passenger is lower/different when it comes to highprofile cases?”

Captain Rohit Mateti said that Kamra’s behaviour “while unsavoury, was NOT qualifying of a level 1 unruly passenger” and his airline’s decision to ground him for six months was taken “solely on the basis of social media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the pilot-incommand (PIC)”.

Sources in the know say as that per law, IndiGo’s decision to ground Kamra for six months and Air India, Spice-Jet and GoAir’s similar moves till further notice are “null and void”. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is awaiting a formal report from the IndiGo panel probing the case.

After Kamra confronted Goswami on board 6E-5317 on Tuesday, IndiGo grounded him for six months.

The same night aviation minister H S Puri “advised” airlines to “impose similar restrictions”.

Accordingly, three more airlines grounded Kamra till further notice. The no fly list (NFL) rules enacted two years ago explicitly say such an action can be taken only if the pilot-in-command of the flight gives a complaint to the airline, which, in turn, will then within 30 days decide on grounding the allegedly unruly passenger. During these 30 days, the allegedly disruptive flyer is barred from flying only on that airline and not other carriers.

IndiGo: Internal committee has started probe into Kamra row

On the pilot-in-command’s letter issue, IndiGo said in a statement: “We have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the probe regarding this incident.” After the pilot’s mail, H S Puri tweeted on Thursday: “I had expressed my views with regard to the unruly behaviour of a passenger on board IndiGo flight. I reiterate airlines must ensure ‘zero tolerance’ for any activity, which has the potential to jeopardise the safety of passengers in an aircraft.”

In his mail, the “disheartened” captain said that soon after push back on Tuesday, the cabin crew informed him that Kunal Kamra and Goswami had a verbal altercation. And that when the crew asked Kamra to return to his seat as safety demonstration was under way, “Kamra apologised to the LCA (lead cabin attendant) and returned to his seat.” When the aircraft passed 10,000 feet, Kamra was back in the front row aisle “speaking in a raised voice to Goswami.… (LCA) was informed by a passenger that Kamra briefly used abusive language…. I did not observe any physical contact between the two”.

Based on this inflight sequence of events, the pilot’s mail points out “while Kamra’s behaviour was unacceptable, at no point did he not comply with crew instructions… he was never issued a red warning card and hence cannot be classified as such”.

“As captain, I do not find the events reportable … Indeed pilots can attest to incidents similar and/or worse that were not deemed unruly,” he adds, while terming IndiGo’s decision to act against Kamra “somewhat unprecedented”.

‘Kamra was abusive but obeyed crew instructions’

This is the full text of the email from Captain Rohit Mateti, pilot of the Mumbai-Lucknow IndiGo flight on which stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra confronted TV news anchor Arnab Goswami on Tuesday, to the airline:

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 (sic) 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 BOMLKO 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. Rohit Mateti