For most of us, there are only two things we dread on an airplane: Screaming babies whose parents don’t even apologize while their offspring screams non-stop and drunk passengers who have decided that the plane is their own personal comedy club/singles club and won’t shut up even after they’ve been threatened by the in-flight crew. Sometimes, we also worry that our seat mates may want to talk to us, droning on and on about the Norwegian leather industry while showering us with specks of their halitosis.
Assault on planes is rare in the United States — or at least rare-ish; according to a report at Quartz, neither the airlines nor the FBI disclose statistics — but for women in India it’s becoming more and more an everyday occurrence. And that’s why the country’s national airline is designating two rows on each flight as “women-only” spaces, attempting to create at least the veneer of a safe space for their female passengers.
The Guardian reports that the move, which is unprecedented in flight but already common when it comes to train cars and auto-rickshaws, arose from an urgent need to protect women while they were flying. In the past month, Air India has been involved in two incidents of female passengers and cabin crew being harassed and groped by male passengers on the flight.
From The Guardian:
Air India is trying to rebuild its reputation as a safe airline for female passengers after an incident in December, when a business class passenger flying from Mumbai to Newark moved to an empty seat next to a woman in economy and allegedly groped her as she slept.
Another Air India passenger was also reportedly arrested in January after a flight attendant complained he had touched her inappropriately and made lewd remarks.
While one of Air India’s general managers stated that the changes, which will see women booking the female-only seats at no additional charge, were to enhance customers’ “comfort,” it’s clear that the word that should have been used was “safety.” The new seating option launched this week on domestic flights and will soon become available on international trips. Planes will also begin carrying restraints for “unruly” passengers, allowing flight attendants and other airline personnel to secure passengers who have become unmanageable for the safety of everyone on board.
At least one former Air India executive has already criticized the change, saying that planes are not unsafe places for women passengers, that women-only rows aren’t used anywhere else in the world, and called the entire thing a “misplaced priority” stating that “In case of unruly behaviour, the airline crew are authorised to take action as per the law.” But considering that one of these cases actually involved a man being arrested for assaulting an employee, it sounds like Air India’s really on to something here, especially as the claim that women are always safe on planes is a specious one. Take this video clip, for instance, in which a Trump supporter loudly referred to women as “Hillary bitches” during an in-flight tirade.
Of course, The Guardian reports, assault is only one of many problems India’s airlines are currently facing. Air travel inside the country has risen by 20 percent in the past two years and there have already been incidents involving drunk pilots and “near misses on the tarmac.”