A few brownie points may have come Suresh Prabhu’s way for ordering an inquiry into reports that the staff of a private airline roughed up and de-boarded a passenger who complained of mosquitoes in the cabin, but the minister will have to do a lot more to discipline the airlines and inspire confidence in the travelling public. The outcome of most inquiries is ignored ~ unless it involves a VIP throwing his/her weight around, which arouses considerable public uproar ~ and the carrier continues with its boorish ways. That the recent incident concerning a doctor on a Lucknow-Bengaluru flight was the 10th case pertaining to that particular budget airline confirms that the malaise is spreading fast; and given the reality that the staff have numbers on their side and most others wish to avoid getting dragged into a mess, no effective corrective action seems to have been taken.

Maybe the predecessor of the present minister for civil aviation was too much of a gentleman to crack the whip, the point is whether personal intervention at the ministerial level is required in matters that could be easily remedied by the DGCA. It is high time that staff misbehaviour was monitored, and the equivalent of the “no fly” list of unruly passengers was drawn up for the airlines. Collective punishment may appear harsh, it is often the only way out. People do not pay big bucks to fly and risk being assaulted by staff untrained in basic decencies: the passenger may not always be right, yet he is not always wrong.

It was disturbing to hear passengers’ tales of woe, as aired on TV. One was that protesting passengers were frequently accused of having behaved “inappropriately” with female cabin crew, another was that they were overheard talking about hijacking. Or that the passenger was “under the influence”. These are professional excuses and point to malicious intentions. The top management of the airlines need to be wary ~ it will not always be a sellers’ market, as Air India has learnt to its cost.

The carrier in the news could lose out in public perception: its efficiency derailed by rude staffers. With increasing competition, private airlines are anxious to keep to the minimum the turnaround time between flights, does that put the staff under undue strain? That situation could worsen as the regional connectivity scheme progress, the skies may not get overcrowded but the terminal buildings and “air sides” of many airports could choke.

A very pertinent query would be if the DGCA and its several wings have kept pace with the growth in traffic. Ensuring that the carriers have well-trained, courteous, efficient staff will have to be part of the regulator’s job until such time as market forces promote genuine professionalism. A boarding-card cannot become a ticket to a possible thrashing.