Pilot’s letter strips IndiGo and minister of fig leaf over comedian ban
An extraordinary and courageous letter attributed to an IndiGo pilot-in-command has struck at the root of the flying ban on comedian Kunal Kamra for confronting TV anchor Arnab Goswami aboard a flight.
Pilot Rohit Mateti, who commanded the Mumbai-Lucknow flight on Tuesday and whose complaint is mandatory for initiating no-fly list proceedings, has said in the letter to the IndiGo management that Kamra cannot be classified as an unruly passenger on the basis of his “unsavoury” behaviour towards Arnab Goswami.
“As Captain of 6E5317 BOM-LKO on 28.01.2020, I do not find the aforementioned events reportable in any way. Mr. Kamra’s behaviour while unsavoury, was NOT qualifying of a Level 1 Unruly passenger,” Mateti’s email to IndiGo said. The email corroborates the version of Kamra that he had apologised more than once to the crew.
The authenticity of the letter attributed to Mateti, which was first published by moneycontrol.com, a financial portal, that withheld his name to protect his identity, has not been contested by IndiGo till late Thursday night.
News agency ANI quoted IndiGo as saying: “We have taken cognisance of the letter of the pilot, who was operating the flight on which Kunal Kamra and Arnab Goswami were travelling. We have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident.”
The pilot’s name and the full letter were later disclosed on social media and in reports by other news outlets.
The following is the letter emailed by Mateti to, according to IndiGo sources, to Capt. Rahul Patil, chief pilot — line operations, flight operations:
Good evening Captain,
This email is to address the events that occurred on 6E5317, BOM-LKO on 28.01.2020.
After pushback, I was informed by the LCA (lead cabin attendant) that 2 gentlemen were involved in a verbal altercation and that it had been noticed prior to commencement of the flight. One was seated on 13A (Mr. Kunal Kamra) and the other on 1B (Mr. Arnab Goswami). I was informed that Mr. Kamra had tried to engage with Mr. Goswami, who did not respond. Mr. Kamra was asked by the LCA to return to his seat as the safety demonstrations were underway and the seat belt signs were on. Upon receiving this instruction, Mr. Kamra apologised to the LCA and returned to his seat.
After passing 10,000 ft, the cabin crew commenced their preparations for service, but the seat belt signs remained on the entire flight. After the start of cabin service, the flight deck was contacted by the LCA to inform us that Mr. Kamra was back in the passenger aisle by Row 1 speaking in a raised voice to Mr. Goswami. She mentioned that she was informed by a passenger that Mr. Kamra had briefly used abusive language. Upon hearing this I turned the surveillance on from the cockpit to observe the events at Row 1. I noticed Mr. Kamra gesticulating to Mr. Goswami who was unresponsive. I did not observe any physical contact between the two gentlemen at any point.
At this time I made a Passenger Address to the cabin asking the gentleman standing in the passenger aisle near Row 1 to return to his seat, and that any disagreements they may have could be sorted out on the ground after the conclusion of the flight. Mr. Kamra upon hearing this immediately apologised again to the LCA, relayed an apology to me via the LCA and subsequently returned to his seat.
A few minutes after this, I turned on the surveillance again to check the status of the forward cabin area. I noticed a number of passengers crowding around the forward area waiting to use the lavatory and — in my opinion — to get a better look at Mr. Goswami. I noticed a passenger try to talk to Mr. Goswami.
Not wanting to exacerbate this developing pattern, I made another Passenger Address reminding passengers that the seatbelt signs were still on and that we were expecting turbulence. I asked them to return to their seats, fasten their seatbelts and request the cabin crew for assistance if they needed to use the lavatories. Upon making the announcement, the passengers vacated the forward galley, returned to their seats and a return to normalcy was observed.
I then asked the LCA to speak with Mr. Goswami and inform him that the Flight Deck send their regards, and that if he wished to lodge a complaint, we would be happy to assist him after landing in Lucknow. He was also offered extra F&B. He thanked the LCA and acknowledged the offer.
After the flight when most passengers had deplaned, Mr. Kamra requested permission to enter the flight deck to speak with me to personally apologise again. He did so. I asked him if his issue was political in nature, which he confirmed. I advised him that while we are all entitled to our opinions, there was a time and place to voice them, and that mid-flight was no place for it. He agreed, thanked us and left the aircraft.
The flight deck crew briefly encountered Mr. Kamra again outside the LKO (Lucknow) terminal where we were waiting for Hotel Transport. He apologised again and left.
While Mr. Kamra’s behaviour was unacceptable and verbally abusive, at no point did he not comply with Crew instructions. While he did briefly display Level 1 traits for Disruptive behaviour (ICAO Doc 9811), he was also immediately compliant of crew instruction, was never issued a red warning card and hence cannot be classified as such. Furthermore, in line with the IndiGo SEP (safety and emergency procedures) Manual guidelines for Disruptive Behaviour, the situation was (defused), the passenger in question kept under observation and the cabin kept in lockdown for the duration of the flight. Hence, no further action on the part of the Cockpit Crew was required. The LCA advised me she would be filing a report on her end in-line with Cabin Crew guidelines.
As Captain of 6E5317 BOM-LKO on 28.01.2020, I do not find the aforementioned events reportable in any way. Mr. Kamra’s behaviour while unsavoury, was NOT qualifying of a Level 1 Unruly passenger. Indeed we pilots can all attest to incidents similar and/or worse in nature that were not deemed Unruly.
Furthermore, I was disheartened to learn that my Airline has taken action in this case solely on the basis of Social Media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the Pilot-in-Command. This is somewhat unprecedented in my 9 years of Airline flying. Moving forward, am I to understand that the bar for interpretation of a Disruptive passenger is lower/different when it comes to high profile cases? Perhaps the SEP Manual is to be amended to reflect this? I would like a clarification from the Airline as this leaves a lot of room for ambiguity.
Capt. Rohit Mateti.
After IndiGo slapped the six-month ban on Kamra, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri had advised other airlines to take similar action. Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir did so “until further notice”.
The DGCA, the aviation regulator, had on Wednesday said that the action by the four carriers was in “complete consonance” with its regulations. However, according to the 2017 rules of the DGCA, if a passenger engages in any unruly behaviour, the pilot-in-command has to file a complaint and only then an internal committee of the airline can probe the matter and take punitive action based on findings of the investigation.
The rules also stated that a passenger who is deemed a “level 1” unruly passenger can be banned for up to a maximum of three months by the internal committee.
After Mateti’s letter became public, civil aviation minister Puri tweeted: “I had expressed my views with regard to the unruly behaviour of a passenger on board IndiGo flight. I reiterate that airlines must ensure ‘zero tolerance’ for any activity which has the potential to jeopardise safety of passengers in an aircraft.”