Over the course of two weeks – on two separate occasions – women reported being groped on Air India flights. Within days, the state-owned airline announced that it would keep plastic handcuffs on all of its flights, to restrain passengers who get “totally out of control.” Now Air India is taking an additional measure – reserving a female-only row of seats on its airlines.
According to reports, starting on January 18, passengers will have the option of purchasing tickets in the reserved women’s only section, six seats in the third row of the economy class, the Press Trust of India reported.
“We feel, as national carriers, it is our responsibility to enhance comfort level to female passengers,” said Air India general manager of revenue management Meenakshi Malik, the Hindu reported. “There are a lot of female passengers who travel alone with us and we will be blocking a few seats for them.”
The airline’s decision has been met with both criticism and praise, and comes on the heels of two different reports of women molested on flights. On Dec. 21, a male passenger traveling from Mumbai to Newark on Air India shifted to a vacant seat in the economy class to be next to a female passenger, the Times of India reported. When she fell asleep, he allegedly groped her, waking her up. She reported the incident to the cabin crew, and lodged a complaint to the authorities when she arrived in the U.S.
Less than two weeks later, a middle-aged man was arrested after an Air India hostess complained that he had allegedly molested her on a flight to Delhi from Muscat, the media reports stated. The plane had just entered Indian airspace when the flight attendant informed the captain that a passenger had “touched her inappropriately” and “repeatedly” used lewd language.
“Inflight misbehaviour is on the rise in recent times,” a senior official told the media. “Our pilots adopt zero tolerance for offenses like sexual harassment, both of air hostesses or flyers, and hand over offenders to law enforcing agencies on landing.”
A former Air India executive director, Jitendra Bhargava told the media that the move was unnecessary, calling it a “misplaced priority.” D. Sudhakara Reddy, national president of Air Passengers Association of India, agreed. “It is an impractical move and will lead to gender discrimination,” Reddy said. “The airline should not go ahead with the plan.”
Some voiced similar criticism on social media, while others commended the airline for promoting the safety of women. This is not the first time Air India has faced criticism on a women’s rights issue – in September of 2015, the airline announced it would be grounding about 130 of its flight attendants – mostly women – because they were over-weight. Air India said the decision was based on safety concerns and recent government regulations, but critics said it was “ridiculous” and “shockingly sexist.”