Air India appears to have joined the “reservation” club when it recently announced that six seats on domestic flights would be reserved for woman passengers. The move will be implemented from January 18; six seats in the third row of economy class would be reserved solely for women.


Speaking to The Hindu, Air India general manager (revenue management) Meenakshi Malik said the move was aimed at enhancing the comfort level for women travelling alone. The move was reportedly prompted by an incident on a Mumbai-Newark flight in December when a male passenger moved from business class and sat in economy class and groped a woman passenger. The reservation policy won’t apply for women travelling with families.


Former Air India officials and experts have slammed the proposal. A former executive director with Air India, Jitendra Bhargava, told The Hindu that the practice of reserving seats for women on flights doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. He noted that incidents of sexual abuse are rare on flights and the flight crews are empowered to act against offenders.


Air India recently landed in a spot when data from FlightStats, an aviation information company, showed Air India flights were delayed nearly 39% of the time in 2016, making it the third-worst international carrier in terms of punctuality. Air India dismissed the claims and said the data was misinterpreted to portray it in a negative light. The reservation of seats for women won’t help address fundamental issues that are hobbling the carrier.


Watch: Why Air India is one of the worst airlines in the world


Despite repeated infusions of government funds, Air India has continued to lose market share over the past decade, given the advent of private carriers on both domestic and international routes as well as the increasing expansion of Gulf carriers. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Kuwait Airways have aggressively positioned themselves in the Indian market as the preferred hub-and-spoke carriers for connections to Europe and North America. From holding nearly 50% of the domestic market in 2001, Air India has come down to commanding less than 15% share of the domestic market in mid-2016.


Air India’s current debt is approximately ₹46,000 crore. Ashwani Lohani, CMD of Air India, recently told The New Indian Express that he “hoped” the carrier would turn fully profitable by 2022. Air India has suffered from among the world’s worst “employee-to-aircraft” ratios, which adds to the airline’s salary burden. While this has been pared down from around 260 employees per aircraft in 2012 to 120 in 2015, the restructuring was cosmetic in nature: staff were rotated to subsidiary services.


In a global (and domestic) civil aviation industry marked by aggressive, out-of-the-box pricing mechanisms, loyalty promotions and constantly evolving service benchmarks, Air India reserving six seats seems like reactionary, statist thinking. Six seats are unlikely to help increase the carrier’s popularity among women in a market inundated with alternatives.