An Air India Boeing 777 lifts off from San Francisco International Airport on Oct. 23, 2016. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special for USA TODAY)
Air India is adding a female-only row of seats on its domestic flights, though company officials insist the move is not in response to alleged groping incidents.
“We will be reserving the third row — six seats — in the economy class of the aircraft for female passengers travelling alone,” Meenakshi Malik, Air India’s revenue management chief, told The Hindu newspaper of India. “We feel, as national carriers, it is our responsibility to enhance comfort level to female passengers. There are a lot of female passengers who travel alone with us and we will be blocking a few seats for them.”
Air India said it would not charge a fee for women requesting to be seated in the section. The seats, which will be made available starting Wednesday (Jan. 18), can be requested up to an hour before check-in.
Initial media reports tied Air India’s move to alleged groping incidents in which women haven been targeted on recent Air India flights. But the carrier has denied that is its motivation.
“We are doing this as we get lots of requests by female passengers at the check-in counter who want to sit next to another woman, rather than a male passenger,” G. Prasada Rao, Air India’s general manager for corporate communications, said to Reuters. “It is not connected to the reports of sexual assaults. It’s more to do with the fact that economy class doesn’t have much space to move around easily and comfortably for women, so this option will give them more choice.”
Regardless of the reason, Air India’s female-only row comes after two incidents that have reportedly happened on its flights recently.
In December, a woman claimed she was wakened from her sleep after being groped by a man who moved to what had been an empty seat next to her. That incident is alleged to have occurred on an Air India flight from Mumbai to New York.
In January, a female Air India flight attendant alleged she was subjected to unwanted touching and vulgar language by a male passenger on a flight from Delhi to Muscat.
Reuters says the men were referred to police in each of the incidents.
Despite Air India’s assertion that its new female-only row is not a response to such incidents, The Times of India notes the carrier also has revealed plans to keep plastic handcuffs on all of its flights so crews can restrain passengers.
“We used to carry restrainers only on our international flights but will now have them on both domestic and international flights. All our aircraft will have two pairs of restraining devices,” Air India chairman Ashwani Lohani chairman said to the Times.