Published on : Tuesday, March 31, 2020
As coronavirus surged in India, the aviation, travel & tourism and hospitality sectors in the country are bearing the brunt. The Air Passengers in India, which complements the travel & tourism and hospitality segments, are the most affected facing the hardship of the present extraordinary situation of Coronavirus outbreak and consequential suspension of all domestic and International flights from / to / within India.
Worldwide, governments encouraged flexibility for Air Passengers, so that they can postpone or cancel their Tickets with nil / less financial loss. Since the impact of the COVID 19 outbreak is unpredictable and depends on how long the epidemic lasts and may be further exacerbated, despite the present restrictive measures taken by our Government as well as other countries.
The majority of Air Tickets are either issued by Travel Agencies or directly issued by Passengers through Airline Websites or Online Travel Agency (OTA) Websites, usually fall under the lowest Fare category with several Terms & Conditions, including the “Non-refundable” tag. And for processing the Cancellation /Refund / Date Change, etc., passengers ought to approach the same booking channels. Due to the Coronavirus – COVID 19 outbreak, Air Passengers in India are practically incapable of going through the standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for Cancellation/ Refund / Date Change, etc
Presently, most of the Airlines and Online Travel Agency (OTA) Websites are taking advantage of this situation by way of denying REFUND of Ticket Fares to Passengers for the unutilized tickets, for Flights which are now canceled or suspended operations due to COVID-19 outbreak. There are instances reported in Media about the unfair policies adopted by Airlines in Air Ticket Refund / Cancellation etc. Some Airlines are refunding only 10% of the Ticket Fare. As reported in a national news media, an Airline offered refund payment of Rs.12, 500 only for a Trivandrum to London Tickets of a Family, who paid around Rs.1, 50,000 for issuing their Tickets.
On 12th March 2020, DGCA had issued a Circular to all Airlines operating in India, requesting to consider and take appropriate call for waiving off the Cancellation, Reschedule charges or to provide any other incentive for Passengers, and most of the Airlines ignored the request. On the contrary, Airlines reiterated that Cancellation / Reschedule of Air Tickets would process as per the terms and conditions mentioned at the time of ticketing, wherein most tickets endorsed as “Non-Refundable”. A tactful weapon for Airlines to conveniently interpret the terms & conditions of “Contract of Carriage” under ‘Force Majeure” for evading the “Ticket Fare” (basic fares and fuel charges) to Passengers on refund or Cancellation of their unutilized tickets and also to collect penalty charges or fees for Rescheduling / Date Change, etc.
When the clause “Force Majeure” interpreted from the perspective of natural justice and Passenger Centric, then cancellations or rescheduling due to COVID-19 is also an Act of God – “Force Majeure,” which be equally applicable to the airline as well as the passenger.
Considering the current extraordinary state of affairs due to the worldwide spread of Covid-19, the majority of the domestic and international passengers in India, may not be in a position to decide or prepare for a new travel plan immediately, due to the prevailing uncertainty. They need a full refund of the Ticketed Value (including BASIC FARE and Fuel Surcharges) of the unutilized Tickets. Or convenient flexibility to reschedule their travel plans by utilizing the total Ticketed Value / Electronic Miscellaneous Document (EMD) as credit, to be used for a new period in the same Class and Sector without any Fees or Fare difference.
Many Indian and foreign carriers, including OTAs, arbitrarily and illegally using the technical term “non-refundable” to amass the hard-earned money of Air Passengers, by taking advantage of “Force majeure” clause as outlined in the Air Passenger Charter Act 2019.
To overcome this, we requested Shri. Hardeep Singh Puri – Hon. Minister for Civil Aviation, Govt.of India to kindly address this burning issue by giving necessary directions to the office of Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA):
1) to allow a full refund of the Ticketed Value (including BASIC FARE and Fuel Surcharges) of unutilized Tickets.
2) to provide the convenience of Rescheduling of Travel dates by utilizing total Ticketed Value or EMD as credit, to be used for the same Class and Sector without any Fees or Fare difference,
By integrating appropriate modifications in the “CIVIL AVIATION REQUIREMENTS,” under Section 3, “AIR TRANSPORT” on the subject of ‘ Refund of Airline Tickets to Passengers of Public Transport Undertakings”, with strict instruction for compliance by all Scheduled International & Domestic Airlines operating to/from/within India.
It is our Social Responsibility and need of the hour to support Air Passengers in India (both Domestic & International Passengers) and protect their hard-earned money spent for Air Tickets, in light of the present hardships they are going through.