Understanding the Indigo Pilot Assault: Bad Weather, Flight Delays and Passenger Satiety.

T K Arun

The passenger who vented his anger on a hapless pilot is way out of line. When the weather is to blame, there is only so much that airlines and their crew can do

The fog that is Delhi’s seasonal affliction seems to hinder clarity of vision not just in a literal, physical sense but also in unfortunate metaphorical ways as well. A would-be flyer on a Delhi-Goa Indigo flight got so infuriated at the protracted delay in the flight’s departure that he assaulted the pilot.

Bad weather and flight delays in New Delhi

When Delhi goes under a smog, delaying planes, trains and creating pile-ups on the superfast expressways leading to the national Capital, planes get delayed across the country. When planes that fly to and from Delhi get delayed, delay spreads as a chain reaction. Passengers scheduled to travel on the Mumbai-Chennai leg of a Delhi-Mumbai-Chennai flight find that their flights are delayed as well, when the flight’s departure from Delhi gets delayed. All scheduled flights, whose schedules are interlinked with flights to and from Delhi, get affected.

Needless to say, the pilot or crew of the delayed flights or the airlines themselves are hardly to blame for the hardship flyers find themselves in. Just a little reflection on the passengers’ part would help them see reason rather than just red.

A frequent complaint against Air India, frequently aired on social media, is about the quality of its planes’ interior trim and how so many of their inflight entertainment systems are dysfunctional. We expected better from the Tatas, is the refrain that rounds off such posts of righteous outrage. Of course, a paying passenger has every right to expect a full-service carrier to provide full service, including in-flight entertainment.

But the simple fact is that if Air India were to avoid all such complaints by grounding all their aircraft till every one of them has been kitted out with new trim and a new array of entertainment screens and associated hardware and software, fewer planes would be taking off from India for foreign destinations.

Paying passengers would pay a whole lot more for the same flights they now take to Newark or Toronto. Sometimes, when a desperate deadline is missed because there just was no seat available on any airline to reach somewhere in a hurry, people would appreciate the value of a flight being available, even if without some of the creature comforts we have come to take for granted.

Air India has traditionally been an under-capitalised, loss-making airline, particularly after merging the loss-making Indian Airlines into it, which brought with it the accumulated losses of grounding a new fleet of A320 aircraft in the 1980s for years on end, simply because the politicians did not want to acknowledge that an accident that took place was on account of pilot error and not because of any problem with the aircraft. The Gulf War called for a massive airlift of Indians stranded in Iraq, and the grounded A320s were put to work for the job, which they performed splendidly.

Loss-making Air India had cannibalised its fleet. Some of its entertainment systems cannot find parts for repair. These have to be replaced completely.

Of course, it is not for the airline to find reasonable passengers, but for the passengers to find airlines that try reasonably hard to fulfil reasonable expectations. People can be reasonable, but the weather cannot. As rational beings, we just have to make the best of the bad situations we find ourselves in, thanks to bad weather.

Do I sound too charitable towards airlines, and too hard on complaining passengers? Perhaps, I am overcompensating, as an irate passenger facing a flight delay that would land me back in Delhi at 1.30 am on Tuesday, provided the flight does, indeed, eventually take off.

TK Arun is a Senior Journalist and Columnist based out in Delhi.

The article was first published as Indigo Pilot Assault: People can be reasonable, the weather cannot in Moneycontrol on January 15, 2023.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

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Acknowledgement: Posted by Sameeran Galagali, a Research Intern at IMPRI.