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Wedding in the skies ends in Covid notice; probe on, Spice Jet crew off-rostered

The flight, operated by SpiceJet and chartered by a Madurai businessman, took off from Madurai and landed back in the city after a two-hour “joy ride” on Sunday, with the couple and their relatives and friends on board.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: May 25, 2021 8:14:13 am
Image tweeted by ANI

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has launched an investigation into a case of 161 passengers on board a chartered SpiceJet flight flouting onboard Covid norms while attending a mid-air wedding ceremony on Sunday.

“The crew of the flight has been off-rostered and the airline has been directed to lodge a complaint with relevant authorities against those not following Covid-appropriate behaviour,” a senior DGCA official said, adding that the aviation safety regulator was conducting an inquiry into the incident “and shall take strict action”.

The flight, operated by SpiceJet and chartered by a Madurai businessman, took off from Madurai and landed back in the city after a two-hour “joy ride” on Sunday, with the couple and their relatives and friends on board.

On Monday, videos of the wedding ceremony from within the flight emerged on social media with passengers being seen without masks or face-shields and not following social distancing norms onboard the aircraft.

According to sources and flight tracking portal Flightradar24, the flight hovered over Madurai’s Meenakshi Amman temple as the couple completed the marriage rituals. Tamil Nadu, which is under a Covid-19 lockdown, only allows for a maximum of 50 people to attend wedding celebrations.

In March, the DGCA had issued a circular to all airlines, airports and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to treat passengers who violate Covid-19 protocol, despite repeated warnings during the course of the flight, as “unruly passengers”. This meant that passengers who do not wear their masks appropriately or follow social distancing norms during a flight could land on the no-fly list for at least three months.

In a statement, a SpiceJet spokesperson said, “A SpiceJet Boeing 737 was chartered by a travel agent in Madurai on May 23, 2021, for a group of passengers for a joy ride post their wedding. The client was clearly briefed on Covid guidelines to be followed and denied permission for any activity to be performed on board. The approval for this flight was taken as a joy ride for the wedding group.”

“The agent and the guest passengers were briefed in detail, both in writing as well as verbally, on social distancing and safety norms to be followed as per Covid guidelines both at the airport and onboard the aircraft throughout the journey. The group was repeatedly briefed on the safety norms to be followed by the operating cabin crew and advised to follow the protocols laid down by DGCA including restrictions on photography and videography. Despite repeated requests and reminders, the passengers did not follow Covid guidelines and the airline is taking appropriate action as per rules,” the spokesperson added.

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According to DGCA’s rules on dealing with unruly passengers, there are three levels of putting an offender on the no-fly list — three months for verbal abuse, six months for physical assault, and two years or more for life-threatening behaviour. The rules also stipulate that after the airline’s crew file a complaint, an internal committee formed by the airline will decide the nature of the offence and the level of punishment that needs to be given to the passenger.

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