Over the course 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.
Starting Jan. 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 Times of India reported. 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 Times of India. “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 Hindu 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 overweight.
Air India said the decision was based on safety concerns and recent government regulations, but critics said it was “ridiculous” and “shockingly sexist.”
In a recent list of the worst-performing international airlines in the world, Bloomberg listed Air India as third, based on FlightStats data showing that flights were delayed nearly 40 percent of the time. A spokesperson from the airline denounced the FlightStats report as “fabricated.”
On other forms of transportation, a number of cities in India and in other countries have introduced female-only sections, with varying levels of success. In India, certain local and long-distance trains, metros and buses have reserved berths, seats or coaches for women.
In 2008, Mexico City started a women’s only bus service to protect female passengers from groping and verbal abuse common on the city’s packed public transportation system. The special buses pull up at ordinary stops but have large pink “women only” signs on the front and side. Rio de Janeiro brought in women-only carriages for rush hour on the city’s metro in 2006, after concerns about widespread sexual harassment, but they are widely ignored and enforcement is sporadic.
In response to an uptick in groping incidents, Tokyo introduced women’s only carriages in certain metro and train lines more than a decade ago.
China experimented with a women-only service in the eastern city of Zhengzhou this past summer in an effort to cut the number of groping incidents.
THE WASHINGTON POST