Home / Opinion / Online-views /  VIP culture needs to be curbed for smoother airlines operations

The video running on the television screen looked surreal. The country’s leading news channels were showing two young employees of IndiGo Airlines assaulting and pinning down a middle-aged man at Delhi airport. He was struggling to free himself from their grip even as everybody else remained mute spectators. This barbaric behaviour happened on the tarmac of an airport considered to be a highly sensitive high-security zone.

It was clear in the video how that man was first held by the waist and prevented from boarding the bus taking air passengers to the terminal and then mercilessly hurled on the ground. His agony was far from over. A third employee soon joined the shameful exercise. Such ganging up is generally seen among hoodlums beating up drivers on the streets of Delhi. Do these goons want to turn the tarmacs of our airports into lawless, mean streets?

The passenger could have made a mistake, but there are rules and regulations to deal with it. Where was the need to resort to violence instead of going by the rules?

This case was shrouded in secrecy for three weeks. After making headlines in the media, policemen stationed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport claimed a compromise had been arrived at. The senior official who had arrogantly kept silent till now clarified that the airline had penalized the individuals involved. It is the same airline that was accused of misbehaviour by international badminton star P.V. Sindhu. At that time it was said that it was Sindhu herself who had misbehaved and not the airline crew. This is a case of the culprits displaying unwarranted defiance. Sindhu is an extremely reticent woman. Global fame hasn’t gone to her head.

It is beyond doubt that air travel has become easier and more accessible since the advent of private airlines in the country. Initially, IndiGo had even created records for safety, cleanliness and punctuality. But allegations of misbehaviour by employees of every private airline have become more frequent of late. The question is what are the policymakers who are meant to fix these flaws doing? How unconcerned they are about the common man was clear at the beginning of last week, when bad weather, air congestion and ‘VIP movement’ forced the diversion of 13 flights on a single day. This impacted 90 domestic flights. At that time few knew the next three or four days will prove to be even worse. One out of the capital’s three runways was closed on 7 November for repairs. The haze that has descended on Delhi’s skies owing to the pollution, VIP movement and the pressure from air travellers—everything led to chaos. People whose flights were cancelled could have included those whose loved ones were getting married, or those who had become victims to disease or death. Someone may have had to miss a job interview and another person might have been hurt by flight delays in another manner.

It is true that transport services sometimes get derailed owing to natural calamities and maintenance requirements. At these times the responsibilities of very important persons increase manifold. But these things cannot be helped. At times, for security reasons, those responsible for their well-being block the passage of others. In India, more than 450 people have been officially given a VIP status by the government. In 2012, this number was 332. In recent times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken some praiseworthy steps to end VIP culture. Red beacons have been reined in and this category is being examined.

One hopes there is a large-scale slashing of this list, but it may take some time before things really change.

New Delhi is the nation’s capital. Therefore, there is more VIP movement here than elsewhere in India. More than 1,000 civilian flights, numerous landings, military flights, air ambulances and the inevitable priority accorded to important people: even a small diversion can upset the time-table and affect all major aviation sectors in the country.

In such a situation, in the interest of domestic and international fliers, shouldn’t we create a separate airport for very important people? Till that becomes a reality, the travellers’ tickets could read: Be prepared for delays: VIPs are on the flight.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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