India imposes £30k fine on airline after passenger urinates on elderly woman

India’s aviation regulator has imposed a fine of £30,000 on Air India and suspended the pilot in command after an inebriated man urinated mid-flight on an elderly woman in November last year.

A passenger, Shankar Mishra, who works with American financial services company Wells Fargo in Mumbai, was arrested by Delhi police almost a month after the New York to Delhi flight.

Following an investigation, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of India said Air India violated its rules by not taking appropriate action against the passenger who “conducted himself in a disorderly manner and allegedly relieved himself on a female passenger”.

The watchdog imposed a financial penalty of Rs 3m (£30,000) on the airline and Rs 300,000 (£3,000) on the airline’s director of in-flight services.

The licence of the pilot on the flight has also been suspended for three months, it added.

The incident which happened on 26 November was reported to DGCA by the airlines only on 4 January.

The action by the airlines came after the woman who has not been identified shared her traumatic experience in a letter to the chairman of Tata Group, which owns the carrier, after Mr Mishra walked free.

“I am... distressed that the airline made no attempt to ensure my safety or comfort during this incident,” she added in the letter.

The passenger “unzipped his pants, relieved himself and continued to expose me to his private parts,” said the letter.

Responding to DGCA’s action, Air India said it acknowledges the gaps in reporting the incident to the authorities and that relevant steps are being taken.

“We acknowledge gaps in our reporting, and we’re taking steps to address them,” the airline said, adding the airline is working to strengthen crews’ awareness handling of unruly passengers.

“Air India is committed to stand by the safety and well-being of our passengers,” it added.

Air India announced a four-month flying ban on Mr Mishra following uproar and shock over the incident.

“The independent three-member internal committee under the Chairmanship of a former District Judge has concluded that Shankar Mishra is covered under the definition of unruly passenger and is banned from flying for a period of four months as per the relevant provisions of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR),” the airline said on 19 January.

Mr Mishra was arrested in Bengaluru city after the Delhi Police formed four teams to hunt him across three cities.

His lawyer told a session’s court in Delhi that Mr Mishra was innocent and that the woman urinated on herself.

The lawyer claimed that the woman was “suffering from some disease related to prostate” which he added several Kathak (classical) dancers suffer from.

The action on the incident comes as recent reports of hours-long flight delays, unruly passenger behaviour and most recently airlines flying without passengers have plagued the India’s aviation sector amid post-pandemic travel boom.

On Wednesday, a Scoot Airline flight left behind 30 passengers, taking off hours ahead of schedule from India’s Amritsar city. India’s civil aviation authority has sought a report from Singapore-based airlines over the incident.

On 9 January, India’s budget carrier Go Air took off without 55 passengers from Bangalore airport, leaving passengers waiting in the shuttle buses.