Airlines unite to bar 'slapgate' MP Gaikwad from flying again

In an unprecedented step, Air India and all private carriers today refused to fly Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad for assaulting an airline employee.

The MP's return ticket from Pune to New Delhi for 4.15 pm on Friday was cancelled by Air India. He then booked an IndiGo flight through an agent which was also cancelled by the airline.

But the Lok Sabha member from Osmanabad in Maharashtra remained defiant and refused to apologize for repeatedly beating and trying to push down 60-year-old Air India officer R Sukumar from the aircraft on Thursday.

"Air India and member airlines have decided to ban this MP from flying on all our flights with immediate effect," the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) said in a statement.

"We believe that exemplary action should be taken in such incidents to protect employee morale and public safety," added FIA associate director Ujjwal Dey.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association also sought an unconditional apology from Gaikwad and threatened to direct its members "not to operate any flight which has Gaikwad on board".

Besides Air India, the airlines which won't allow Gaikwad to fly as FIA members are IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Go Air. AirAsia and Vistara, which are not with FIA, joined them.

The decision was taken a day after Gaikwad thrashed Sukumar repeatedly with a slipper after he was forced to travel in economy class from Pune to Delhi despite holding a business class ticket – and then bragged about the incident.

Amid speculation that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had sought an explanation from Gaikwad, the MP dared Delhi Police to arrest him and also alleged that it was Sukumar who hit him first.

''We have taken legal opinion in the matter expect to receive it soon. The action will be taken accordingly,'' said DCP (airport) Sanjay Bhatia.

Air India has said it was examining the possibility of creating a 'no-fly' list of unruly passengers.

It also lodged First Information Reports with the police against Gaikwad for assaulting a shift manager and delaying a scheduled flight to Goa.

In Thursday's incident, When Gaikwad refused to de-board, Sukumar said he first requested the MP in English to get off the plane but was told to speak in Hindi.

When he began to speak in Hindi, Gaikwad flared up and hit him with his slipper. All through Thursday, Gaikwad boasted how he hit the staffer with his slipper "25 times".

"I will not apologize. Why should I? It's not my mistake. They should apologize first, then (we) will see."

Gaikwad also shot off complaints to civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan demanding an inquiry into the incident.

FIA's Dey said, "We believe an assault on any one of our employees is an assault on all of us and on ordinary law abiding citizens of our country who work hard to earn a living."

Vistara said it was "in full solidarity" with Air India.

Gaikwad "will be barred from flying in any of our flights with immediate effect", it said. "Disruptive and abusive behaviour by passengers is a serious issue and cannot be tolerated."

AirAsia said it "does not tolerate abusive or unruly behaviour by passengers that puts the safety of other guests and crew members on board at risk".

Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said, "Politicians are not above the law."