Instead of protecting rights of passengers, the government has favoured the airlines.
The number of domestic air passengers, which stands at about 125 lakhs is likely to double by 2025 growing at double digits annually. Instead of protecting rights and service to passengers, the government has favoured the airlines.Between 2008 to 2010 the airlines regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) framed few rules for air passenger facilitation under the Civil Aviation Requirement rules. The Air Passengers Charter (APC) announced by the Ministry of Civil Aviation just before the announcement of General Elections is mainly an adaptation of these rules while modifying some of them. In this, APC Ministry has concentrated mainly on five areas of passenger grievances:-
(i) Delay in departure of flights (ii) Compensation on flight cancellation (iii) Compensation on denial of boarding due to over booking (iv) Refund policy on cancellation of booking (v) Compensation on lost and damaged check-in baggage for domestic and international fliers .
It has also provided gateways in the form of force majeure clauses to exempt airlines from paying compensation specified. It has also provided for escalation of grievance redressal through Air Sewa App.
DELAY OF FLIGHTS
The following categories of checked in on time passengers who will suffer delays in their respective flights will be provided hospitality service like free of charge refreshment and meal by the airlines.
(i) When flights are delayed and the passengers have already checked in on time and delay is 2 hrs or more and having block journey period of 2hr 30 min are eligible for hospitality service like refreshment and meal free of charge. Bulk of domestic flights are not covered.
(ii) The passengers whose flight is delayed 3hrs or more and having journey block time of more than 2hrs 30 minute and up to 5hrs are eligible for hospitality service. Only long distance flights like those from Delhi to Trivandrum are covered.
(iii) Other passengers not belonging to the above two categories and delay is 4hrs or more are eligible for hospitality service. Passengers should be offered with refreshment and meals free of charge.
(iv) If the delay is expected to be 6 hrs or more, airlines should offer an option of either an alternate flight within this period or full refund of ticket. Airlines shall arrange alternate flight within 6 hours of scheduled departure of the original flight or refund full fare to the passengers. No
compensation for delay has been prescribed.
(v) Passengers having departure time between 20:00 pm and 03:00 am and delay of more than 6 hrs, airlines shall arrange free hotel accommodation .
The charter has distinguished journey block time as (i) below 2-30 hrs and (ii) above 2-30 hrs which
account for a small no of flights. No passenger will be provided any hospitality
service if the delay is less than 2 hrs .
The cases where flights have been cancelled and intimated/not intimated to the passenger before 2 weeks and up to 24hrs of scheduled departure of the flight are dealt here .
APC has provided compensation in several stages as in the line of CAR Rules 3 Series M part IV dated 6 August 2010 revision on 14 January 2011. The compensation provided are as
Case I: If passengers are well informed 2 weeks before and up to 24hr of the scheduled departure of the flight–passenger can opt for alternate flight or refund full fare with no compensation.
Case II: If the passengers are not informed as per the above, the airlines shall either provide alternate flight as acceptable to the passengers or refund full fare with compensation. Compensation are computed as follows (i) for passengers having block flight time up to 1 hr Rs. 5000 or travel fare (BF + FC) whichever is less (ii) for passengers having block flight time more than 1 hr and up to 2hrs compensation will be Rs. 7500 or travel fare (BF+FC) whichever is less. (iii) for passengers having block flight time more than 2 hrs , compensation will be Rs. 10000 or fare value (BF+FC) which ever is less. Passengers are requested to be alert in providing their contact number, email id etc while booking their flight.
COMPENSATION ON DENIAL OF BOARDING
Generally the airlines are at present over-booking about 20% of the total capacity of the flight in order to compensate loss owing to the last moment cancellation of booking and unexpected ‘No Show’ instances. If the flight is over-booked and the left out passengers have confirmed tickets, they should be dealt with in the following manner:
(i) Arranging alternate flight within one hour of scheduled departure of original flight– no compensation is to be provided.
(ii) Failing to provide an alternate flight within one hour and able to arrange within 24 hrs of booked scheduled departure flight a compensation of 200% of (BF+FC) subject to the maximum Rs. 10000 is to be provided.
(iii) If alternate flight is arranged after 24 hrs, a compensation of 400% of (BF+FC) subject to the maximum Rs. 20000 is to be provided.
(iv) If no alternate flight is opted by the passengers, full fare refund and compensation of 400% of (BF+FC) subject to the maximum of Rs. 20000 is to be provided.
Refund policy on cancellation of booked ticket
Airlines are charging cancellation fee according to their will. The refund policy of cancelled tickets of different airlines is still in shadow. In some cases the cancellation charges are more than 50% of the full fare of the ticket. Air Sewa has given guidelines that cancellation charges in any case must not be greater than the sum of basic fare and fuel charges. Perhaps, the cancellation charges may be collected equal to the sum of basic fare and fuel surcharges. Moreover, if tickets are purchased through agents, they also charge their own handling and cancellation fees. This issue has not been addressed. In this Charter, differentall aspects of refund have not been addressed effectively. An in-depth clarification on this issue is required. Previously, some passenger association have raised the voice against airlines refund policy and suggested that cancellation charges will not be more than 1% of total air fare irrespective of time limit.
Compensation on lost or damage of checked in baggage
(i) For International flight, compensation is limited to SDR 1131.
(ii) For Domestic flight, compensation is limited to Rs. 20000.
Previously compensation was granted on the basis of weight of the lost baggage at Rs 450-500/kg .
Force majeure clause has been mentioned by which an airline can escape and avoid paying compensation to the passengers when flights are cancelled or delayed. Who will verify what is the cause canacellation or delay due to technical fault, ATC regulation and control, weather disruption etc. for which no compensation are to be paid? The Minsitry has been more sympathetic to airlines than that of
The APC is welcome but it has not paid attention to several areas where passengers are practically deprived of their legitimate claim : A few such problems are described below:
(i) No showcases: Those standing in check-in ‘Q’ are denied boarding with a false claim that the check-in period is over and they are marked as ‘No Show’. Such passengers who are denied refund also.
(ii) Refund of cancelled tickets : The refund policy of cancelled tickets of different airlines are opaque, and a passenger is at mercy of the airline. In some cases the cancellation charges are more than 50% of the full fare of the ticket. Air Sewa has given a guideline that cancellation charges in any case must not be greater than the sum of basic fare and fuel charges. Perhaps, the cancellation charges may be collected equal to the sum of basic fare and fuel surcharges . Moreover, if tickets are purchased through agents , they are also charging their own handling and cancellation fees. An in-depth clarification on this issue is required .
(iii) Proper grievance redressal agency: There is no mention about any centralised passengers grievance redressal agency empowered by law, where affected passengers can lodge their complaints for relief. There was a long pending demand of passengers for creation of air passenger ombudsman but there is no sign of fulfillment of this demand. Much has been left undone and we can hope that the new government after general elections can address the deficiencies in this Charter.
Prof Sri Ram Khanna is managing editor of Consumer Voice and former Dean and head of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics. Consumer Voice is a voluntary consumer organisation that does comparative testing of consumer products in laboratories to educate the consumer: www.consumer-voice.org