IndiGo has found itself in hot water with select politicians after it requested a passenger to relocate from an emergency exit seat to the row behind due to a language barrier. The female passenger only spoke Telegu and not English or Hindi on the flight to Hyderabad, the language spoken by the crew on the flight. For safety reasons, the traveler was moved a row behind to a non-emergency exit seat.

Safety requirements

The incident occurred on IndiGo flight 6E 7297 from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, to Hyderabad Airport, Telangana. The 65-minute ATR 72 flight occurred on the 16th of September, taking off at 18:22 and arriving at 19:07 local time. Per one passenger on the flight, a woman in seat 2A, an emergency row seat, was asked to move to 3C since she could not speak English or Hindi, only Telegu.

IndiGo’s decision to move the passenger has drawn the ire of state politicians, according to Business Standard. In particular, some are furious that those speaking only a local language, such as Telegu, have to give up a seat on flights operating to or from their home state. This view was expressed was also Telangana Minister for IT and Industries, KT Rama Rao, who called on IndiGo to add more crew from the region, saying,

“Dear @IndiGo6E Management, I request you to start respecting local languages & passengers who may not be well conversant in English or Hindi. In regional routes, recruit more staff who can speak the local language like Telugu, Tamil, Kannada etc. This will be a win-win solution.”

ATR 72 IndiGo

Both cities have a mostly Telegu-speaking population. Photo: ATR

What are the requirements?

Each country sets its own requirements for who may sit in an emergency exit row. India’s aviation watchdog, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), states that a passenger must be:

  • 15 years of age or older
  • Does not have any disabilities
  • The person should be able to reach and understand instructions related to emergency evacuation provided by the operator in printed, handwritten or graphic form or the ability to understand oral crew commands.
  • Be able and willing to follow all required safety protocols

While foreign regulators like the FAA state that all those in emergency seats must speak English, the DGCA does not state any specific languages. This is due to the diversity of spoken languages across India, with the constitution listing 22 official languages. To tackle this, regulators have stated that passengers sitting in exit rows must be able to understand crew commands in whichever language they are issued.

In response to the incident, IndiGo said,

“We employ crew from all regions and they speak different languages that are an integral part of the diversity of our vast country. Our crew, as a standard operating procedure, makes announcements informing our customers of the languages the crew can speak and understand on that particular flight.”

Emergency Exit Seat

Since passengers may have to operate the emergency exit doors, there are specific requirement for who may sit there. Photo: Getty Images

Given how crew scheduling works, with specific bases across the country, it is difficult to ensure that all the crew on a specific route may speak the regional language of the arriving and departing city. Since emergency orders may be given by any crew members, English and Hindi are usually the default choices on Indian flights. This is unlikely to change soon, with instances of passengers not speaking either usually rare.

However, as travel becomes more regional across India, especially under the government’s UDAN-RCS scheme, airlines may have to consider adding state-wise crew to cater to all passengers.

What do you think about the situation on this flight? Let us know in the comments.


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