Leading Indian Airline Lets Women Choose Seats Away From Men For Safer Travel

Leading Indian Airline Lets Women Choose Seats Away From Men For Safer Travel

Indian airline IndiGo has started testing a new system that lets female travellers choose seats around fellow female travellers

Yogesh PawarUpdated: Sunday, June 09, 2024, 12:15 AM IST
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Indian airline IndiGo has started testing a new system that lets female travellers choose seats around fellow female travellers. So, while web-checking, female travellers can view where other women are seated. Interestingly, the possibility to view neighbouring passengers’ genders when choosing a seat has not been made available to male travellers who may also choose their own seat according to this new feature.

IndiGo has said it is proud of its new feature because “it aims to make the travel experience more comfortable for our female passengers.”

The spokesperson who called the feature “a part of the airline’s GirlPower ethos” while speaking to this writer could not specify both why they introduced it or the timing. She refused to comment on how this has put the onus for safety back on women instead of the perpetrator.

In a patriarchal society where women often find themselves at the receiving end of ‘unwelcome attention’ extending to sexual harassment from men who won’t take no for an answer, there have been mixed responses to the move by authorities.

Lucknow-native Borivili resident banker Raghu Raj Singh for example thinks it is a great move. “Why do we insist on a man accompanying a woman when she steps out alone? This is for their own safety. This is exactly like that,” he said appreciating the move. “I can rest assured the next time my wife is travelling alone to Lucknow that she will feel safe.”

His wife Reshma also said that she would often request air hostesses for help in the past to change seats and sit with women. “I’m glad they are making this official.”

Not everybody is elated though. Some like Padma Vardarajan a school teacher from Mulund says she has not heard of anything more regressive. “In the Ramayana, it is made out to be Sita’s fault for crossing the Lakshman rekha drawn by a man. In this digital day and age IndiGo’s new feature is akin to telling women to stay within the Lakshman Rekha 30,000 feet up in the sky. Why? Because men can't keep it in their pants?” she scoffs and asks "What next? Ladies special flights like our local trains?"

Her collegian daughter Sneha agrees and says it reflects poorly on India. “That this is where we are now makes me very sad. Women should feel comfortable no matter who is seated next to them. It’s unfortunate that gender segregation has become necessary due to the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity which denies women agency over their bodies and sexuality and thinks its okay to harass them.”

The LGBTQIA+ community is miffed at the IndiGo going in the opposite direction as the world is changing its very notions of gender. Equal rights activist Harish Iyer told this writer: “The idea of making women feel safe and comfortable is all very good but the airline needs to think long and hard at whether it is willing to extend the same courtesy to all. Non-binary and trans individuals have suffered invisibilisation, harassment and worse for far too long and shouldn’t have to wait to feel safe and comfortable in a phased manner.”

He found an echo in Kochi-based LGBTQIA+ activist and filmmaker Jijo Kuriakose. “If IndiGo or any airline wants to go inclusive why can’t they begin with changing their damn greeting? Whatever in the world is: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls? Why can’t they simply say: Welcome aboard everyone! At least that won’t be a cosmetic move but a real thing to make people feel included.”

Pune-based women’s rights activist Jessica Martin has another take. “Even if fantastically problematic, let’s assume for argument what IndiGo’s done is preventive safety. But where is the commensurate curative step?” she asks and adds, “Where is the swift, demonstrable action against offenders? Have airlines put any offender on a no-fly list? Do they follow-up with police and make an example of even one offender so the message goes out loud and clear? That requires putting your money where your mouth is.”

She concludes with a lament, “Instances like these underline how far we still are from a gender-just, gender-equal society. Does this mean that next time a women gets harassed on a flight and wasn’t sitting with women, the airline will wash its hands off saying she asked for it?”

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