Saturday, October 03, 2009

In-flight scuffle: Air India pilots and cabin crew 'get physical' at FL300

by B. N. Sullivan

Air India MaharajahThis isn't the kind of story I usually write about here on Aircrew Buzz. Fortunately.

News media in India are reporting on a rather sensational story about a fight among several crew members during an Air India/Indian Airlines* flight. That's right, an in-flight fight -- an actual physical fight -- as in duking it out!

As best I can figure out from several news stories, the scuffle took place on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009 on board an Airbus A320 while the aircraft was in cruise at 30,000 ft over Pakistan. The incident happened on Indian Airlines Flight IC 884, a scheduled passenger flight from Sharjah to Delhi, with an intermediate stop at Lucknow. Reports say that there were seven crew members and 106 passengers on board the flight. Two crew members -- a pilot and a flight attendant -- were injured. No passengers were involved.

The physical fight is said to have taken place on the Sharjah to Lucknow leg of the trip, although at least one news story mentioned that the disagreement may have begun on the ground before departure from Sharjah. In any case, as The Times of India tells it, "two members of the cabin crew -- one male and one female -- slugged it out with the pilot and co-pilot," adding that they "came to blows in the cockpit and galley."

More from The Times of India:
No party denied that blows and abuses were exchanged as bewildered passengers looked on. Sources said that the female cabin crew member and the co-pilot sustained bruises.

Confirming the in-flight fight, Air India said it had ordered an inquiry and had grounded the staff members involved. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has also ordered a probe.

There were unconfirmed reports that at one stage the cockpit was unmanned, as the crew was busy fighting outside. Things allegedly degenerated to the point where the captain threatened to divert the plane to Karachi, likening the situation, sources said, to a "hijack".
Good grief!

Then we move along to a he said/she said account of what transpired. Cabin crew representatives told The Times that "when the woman crew member went into the cockpit, one of the pilots held her hand and then pushed her out of the cockpit," and that she "hit the cockpit door with such force that she started bleeding." At that point the male purser said he went to the cockpit to ask what was happening, but that the pilots "got abusive and started a fight with him."

In the pilots' version, the female flight attendant made a P.A. announcement that differed from what the captain had instructed her to say, so the pilot "scolded" her and called the purser to the cockpit. The pilots' representative said that the purser "became abusive, and tempers ran high in the cockpit." That's when the commander threatened to divert to Karachi. The source went on to explain that the woman crew member "got bruised when she entered the cockpit."

Yes, apparently she really was bruised, a fact confirmed when she visited a hospital after the flight. The woman also "has pressed charges of assault and sexual harassment against the commander and co-pilot," according to a story about the fracas on the Web site. published a quote from the female crew member, who said, "The commander tried to physically abuse me. When I resisted, he pushed me outside the cockpit." She claimed she was touched at "inappropriate places."
Joint Commissioner (Operations) Satendra Garg said, "A case has been registered under Sections 354, 323 and 34 of IPC accusing the co-pilot and commander of molestation, passing derogatory remarks outraging modesty, and simple hurt. We have got the medical examination done and will take the version of the accused."
All four crew members have been derostered while an investigation of the incident is being carried out. Both the airline and India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) are looking into the matter.

*Note: Indian Airlines and Air India, India's two state-owned airlines, were merged into one entity in 2007. They operate as Air India, but I am told that certain flights are designated as Indian Airlines flights, and bear the 'IC' flight numbers.