Air India boss describes ‘personal anguish’ at handling of urinating passenger incident

The chairman of Air India-owner Tata Sons has spoken of his “personal anguish” over an incident where one of the airline’s passengers allegedly urinated on an elderly woman mid-flight.

N Chandrasekaran said on Sunday that the airline’s response “should have been much swifter” and admitted that it “fell short of addressing this situation the way it should have been”.

There has been a significant public outrage over the incident, which reportedly involved a drunk man on a flight from New York to Delhi in November last year urinating on a 70-year-old woman.

The airline’s crew did not take any action against the man at the time, and the incident only came to light earlier this month when the woman wrote a letter to Mr Chandrasekaran.

Police have arrested a suspect named Shankar Mishra over the incident, an employee of American financial services company Wells Fargo. Mr Mishra was detained by police in Bengaluru on 6 January and brought to Delhi, where a court sent him to 14 days of judicial custody.

Mr Chandrasekaran’s statement comes after the country’s aviation regulator pulled up the Tata Group-owned airline for its poor handling of the incident.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation called the crew’s handling of the incident “unprofessional” and criticised the airline for “systemic failure” in dealing with the issue.

The regulator ordered Air India’s top officials, the flight’s pilot and crew to provide an explanation of their conduct within two weeks.

The elderly woman involved in the incident accused Air India staff of being “deeply unprofessional” and said they were not proactive in managing a “very sensitive and traumatic situation”.

Wells Fargo has also issued a statement over the incident, dubbed “pee-gate” by Indian media outlets.

Announcing Mr Mishra’s termination, the company said it held employees “to the highest standards of professional and personal behaviour” and said it found the accusations “deeply disturbing”.

Air India’s chief executive Campbell Wilson also apologised and said the airline was reviewing its policy of serving alcohol on flights.

He said four cabin crew members and a pilot were suspended from operations. Several former pilots and other former airline staffers have, however, accused Air India of making the four cabin crew and the pilot scapegoats.

Air India said that there was “no further flare-up or confrontation” between the elderly woman and Mr Mishra and “respecting the perceived wishes of the female passenger, the crew elected not to summon law enforcement upon landing”.

It added that it has banned Mr Mishra from flying for 30 days. Many social media users criticised the carrier and said the “punishment” meted out to Mr Mishra was not enough.

Meanwhile, Mr Mishra’s lawyers said he exchanged messages with the woman passenger, apologised and paid her Rs 15,000 (about £150) as compensation and also arranged to have her belongings on the flight cleaned.

The woman’s daughter reportedly returned the money after a month, saying they couldn’t accept it.

A passenger on the same flight told NDTV on Monday that Mr Mishra was “incoherent” and that he had flagged this to the crew.

“When he was asking me the same question multiple times, I realised that he may be incoherent. I did flag it to the crew, and the staff just smiled,” Dr Sugata Bhattacharjee, a US-based doctor sitting next to Mr Mishra told the channel.

“He told me he drank to get a good night’s sleep.”

He told the TV channel that he had also complained about the incident to the airline.

“My moral responsibility was to stand up for a fellow passenger, and that is why I wrote a two-page complaint. And it went nowhere,” he added.