Chennai: Air hostesses working with no-frills carrier SpiceJet protested at Chennai airport early morning today after they were allegedly strip searched by the airline’s own security personnel.
They alleged they have been subjected to strip search for the last few days after deboarding from flights, adding the security personnel also told them to remove the sanitary pads they were wearing.
The cabin crew reported for work only after the SpiceJet management assured them a high-level meeting at the airline’s Gurgaon office on Monday to discuss the matter. People familiar with the matter said two midnight flights — one of them an international flight to Colombo — left late by an hour from Chennai airport due to the cabin crew protest.
In a statement, the airline said the “pat down” searches on employees was a global industry practice and were conducted in line with norms laid down by security agencies in closed rooms and by well-trained employees of same gender. The airline has underlined that “the search essentially is the same as what any passenger goes through at any of the Indian airports while going through security check”.
SpiceJet confirmed that the airline’s security team did carry out searches at some of its stations on 28 and 29 March following a tip-off and detected a few cases of pilferage where action was taken.
The airline said the laid-down procedure for the searches had been “stringently followed” in this case. It added allegations that security staff deviated from the procedures are being investigated and “strict action will be taken if anybody is found guilty”.
The statement is a response to reports about a video purportedly shot at Chennai airport that has surfaced, showing a group of air hostesses in uniform and plainclothes complaining about being strip searched. A woman is heard saying, “Someone touched me inappropriately, made me feel very uncomfortable. I was naked.”
The protesting cabin crew alleged that the private airline suspects them of swindling cash collected on board for food and other sales. They alleged they are not allowed to go to the washroom immediately on deboarding from flights.
“We air hostesses are stripped naked over the last three days and women personnel touch us inappropriately. A colleague in her period was asked to remove her sanitary napkin,” an air hostess with 10 years of experience, who asked not to be named, told reporter.
Media has seen some emails sent by the cabin crew to the SpiceJet management, complaining about the “strip search”.
“Is this the policy to remove your sanitary pad, touch private parts?” a woman wrote. “We cabin crew are hired majorly for safety reasons of the fellow passengers but what about our respect and safety? We talk about rape and molestation, is this any less?” another complained.
“On informing the base official that I wasn’t comfortable and I’m on my menses she still checked my panty; they pressed my breasts. I’ve lost my self-respect… Cabin crew is the brand ambassador. We are humiliated as if we have done some robbery,” one of the air hostesses said in the email.
Kamal Hingorani, SpiceJet’s senior vice president who heads in-flight services, in an email to the protesting cabin crew blamed the strict search on suspicion of dozens of cabin crew taking cash and company material from flights.
“We have therefore been compelled to carry out spot checks, which in any case is a company policy. It is in all our interests that the ‘black sheep’ amongst us is identified and removed so that honest employees are not blamed,” Kamal Hingorani said in an email to the airline employees.
A senior SpiceJet official in Chennai told media that “it’s a baseless allegation”. “I can’t comment. I’m not at the base right now,” said another Chennai-based SpiceJet official, who asked not to be named.
SpiceJet, whose chairman and managing director is Ajay Singh, operates a fleet of Boeing and Bombardier Q-400s.