Flights usually symbolise freedom. But flying in Indian aeroplanes can give one a taste of captivity.
SpiceJet’s flight SG 231 from New Delhi for Kochi via Hyderabad on June 1 took off at 9.30 am, a good two hours late. People who had left home with some packed food and water had exhausted their supply. Those who carried nothing were obviously thirsty and famished, having started from their homes at five in the morning.
A passenger, who is a Supreme Court lawyer, had packed some paranthas for the five-hour journey to Kochi. He was shocked when his tiffin was emptied into a dustbin by a security personnel checking his baggage. According to him, the paranthas being dry, and not liquid, did not provoke such an action. Moreover, the hand baggage guidelines do not mention anything on whether travellers can carry food.
However, on the same flight, another passenger was able to carry inside a tiffin full of idlis — either it went undetected by the X-ray machine or security personnel are just whimsical with food items in one’s luggage.
Half an hour after the flight took off, the air hostesses served a small bottle of water. Then, the food arrived. All that was there were sandwiches at Rs 250-300 a packet. Very few people could be seen buying the sandwiches. What happens to those passengers who don’t have any food? What happens if the person travelling is diabetic or old or there are children on the flight?
The airline staff does not keep anything that can be bought at MRP (maximum retail price), such as packets of glucose biscuits or chips. When asked why was no food item sold at MRP, the crew member said it was the company’s policy. To its credit, coffee was served with a biscuit for Rs 30. The same item is sold for Rs 60 on other flights.
A traveller confined in the aircraft is not left with much option, till he/she alights. One travelling in a bus or even in a train can at least purchase food items on his/her way at affordable prices. Why should this right be denied to air travellers in so much as to reduce him/her to a hostage of a particular air company? Stocking packed biscuits does not lower the earnings of the companies. It only makes them more legal entities for denial of food and water, a violation of fundamental right to life.
The new aviation policy, which is still being drafted, does not say anything about these basic rights of consumers. Even airports have been allowed by the government to turn into areas where no food articles are sold at MRP.
The outcome is that people travel either hungry for four to six hours or buy whatever is sold on the aircraft at the demanded price. A look at flight norms abroad shows that there are no restrictions on carrying food, at least from a security point of view. In fact, the cost of a ticket is including food, and no one minds if people prefer home-cooked food, provided it is not smelly or fluid.
These basic needs of travellers don’t concern the government here while drafting its aviation policy. But it does not think twice about handing over hard-earned public money worth over Rs 30,000 crores to rescue an airline company facing financial distress.
The country is also making a law on food security to ensure no one starves. Should those who fly be denied the right to affordable food products?
The trend of ‘no frill’ aviation has caught on, but is food and water equivalent to ‘frill’? The denial of food and water at MRP may improve margins of flight companies in some minute way, but it is at the cost of human rights and consumer rights, especially when those travelling are aged, sick or children.