NEW DELHI, Jan 16: Waking up after the unsavoury incident of a harried passenger hitting the co-pilot of a plane at the Delhi airport following fog-related inordinate delays of the flights, the union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Tuesday announced a six-point action plan to combat fog-induced disruptions to domestic and international commercial flight operations causing delay or cancellation of hundreds of flights.
In a post on X, Mr Scindia outlined new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued to airlines to “mitigate passenger inconvenience.” In addition to these, the Union Minister said the centre had daily reports from all six metro airports, as well as reports into implementation of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) directives
“‘War rooms’ will be set up by airports and airline operators at all six metros to address any issues with regard to passenger inconvenience with immediacy,” he said, “Sufficient CISF (Central Industrial Security Force, which handles security at airports) manpower will be ensured round-the-clock.”
Mr Scindia also said Runway 29L at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport had been made CAT III operational, allowing it to handle take-offs and departures even during dense fog scenarios. He said Runway 10/28 – also with CAT III status – would be made operational soon; the runway, the airport’s oldest runway was shut last year, after the G20 Summit was held in Delhi, for maintenance.
On Monday too Mr Scindia had taken to X amid passenger fury as IndiGo and other airlines, including national carrier Air India, battled poor communications and schedule delays due to bad weather. Pointing to “unprecedented fog” in Delhi on Sunday – that meant visibility “dropped to zero between 5 am to 9 am” – the Aviation Minister appealed for patience as his ministry takes addresses issues.
He said the decision to suspend flight operations at Delhi airport – over 100 services were either cancelled or delayed on Sunday and more than 150 on Monday – was taken “keeping passenger safety in mind.” He had said then that SOPs “aimed at enhancing communication and passenger facilitation” would be issued to all airlines soon. “It is my earnest request to bear with us in this difficult period,” he said.
Mr Scindia also slammed as “unacceptable” any example of violence on board planes. He was referring to shocking scenes on a Delhi-Goa IndiGo flight; a passenger assaulted the captain after his flight was delayed by over 10 hours. The passenger – Sahil Kataria – has been arrested and later released on bail. IndiGo has said it was considering including Mr Kataria in the ‘no-fly list’.
A co-passenger of Kataria in the Delhi – Goa IndiGo flight, even while asserting that he did not support violence, has narrated the developments leading to the 28-year old Kataria slapping the co-pilot to point out that unprofessional behaviour of the flight crew members was equally responsible for the incident.
In a post on X, Mr Sanal Vij pointed out that Kataria was not incensed over the fog-related delays but because of the unexplained delays caused by the crew even after the passengers were ordered to board and locked in without any food or drinks. “Even the requests of the elderly passengers for water were ignored by the crew members,” he pointed out.
According to him, the flight scheduled to take off from Delhi at 7.40 A.M. was delayed due to fog but after the boarding started at 12.20 P.M. with approximately 186 passengers, including infants, young children, and elderly people, no explanation was forthcoming why the flight finally took off only at 5.35 P.M.
“Despite completing boarding by 12:40 PM (approx), the flight doors remained open till 2:50 PM, with ground staff attributing the delay to ATC (air traffic control) not clearing the flight because of the congestion,” Mr Vij said.
He said the pilot announced at 1:30 PM that they were waiting for a crew member and the flight would depart shortly. It became evident that ground staff and crew provided “misinformation”, Mr Vij said. He said the crew members were “observed being unprofessional,” engaging in lengthy conversations with the ground staff. Mr Vij also claimed that “multiple requests” from elderly passengers for water were “ignored” as they were “busy in their conversations.”
“The delayed crew member arrived at 2:40 PM (approx), and the plane doors closed. However, the plane did not push back for some time, leading to passenger inquiries and a verbal altercation with crew members,” he said.
“Around 3:20 PM, the assistant captain came out to address the passengers on the delay when the assault occurred: Violence is unacceptable, but what about Indigo’s mismanagement, unprofessionalism, and 185 passengers stranded without food for hours?” Mr Vij questioned adding that the food was provided to them after 4:00 PM.
“The incident raises questions about the handling of the situation by IndiGo. Shouldn’t authorities investigate the unprofessional conduct and ensure such mismanagement doesn’t recur?” he asked.
In the video filmed on the flight, Kataria is charging at Anup Kumar, the flight’s co-captain, and hitting him. “Chalana hai chala, nahi chalana mat chala, khol gate (fly if you want to, otherwise open the door),” the harried passenger can be heard shouting at the pilot before being dragged away by another passenger.
In an official statement, IndiGo said the passenger had been declared “unruly” and the airline was considering including him in the no-fly list. “The incident is being referred to the independent internal committee for appropriate action and inclusion of the passenger on the ‘no-fly list’ as laid down in regulatory guidelines. The safety and security of our passengers and crew are of paramount importance, and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards any such unacceptable behaviour,” IndiGo said.
In a similar careless situation, some passengers were seen taking food right on the tarmac sitting beside a stranded flight at the Mumbai airport. The Centre on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to IndiGo Airlines and the Mumbai Airport after the video of passengers eating on the tarmac at the airport went viral on social media.
Mr Scindia convened a late-night meeting with ministry officials on Monday to address critical concerns within the sector. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has requested comprehensive responses from both IndiGo and Mumbai Airport.
Videos and images circulating on social media showed stranded passengers sitting on the tarmac beside an aircraft in Mumbai, casually indulging in meals. This bizarre sight was a consequence of the extensive flight disruptions experienced at Delhi airport due to dense fog on the previous day.
“Both Indigo and Mumbai airport were not proactive in anticipating the situation and making the appropriate facilitation arrangements for passengers at the airport,” the aviation ministry’s statement read.
The ministry pointed out specific lapses in the handling of the situation. For instance, the aircraft was assigned a remote bay (C-33) instead of a Contact Stand, which is suitable for walking passengers to and from an aircraft from an allocated boarding gate, it said in the statement.
Over the past two days, the IGI Airport in Delhi has witnessed scenes of utter chaos as stranded passengers faced prolonged delays. Shouts and slogans echoed through the terminals as frustrated travellers expressed their discontent.