Current status of India’s aviation industry
With growing competition amongst airlines to attract more passengers by adding more air services or giving discounts/deals/miles, the whole aviation industry is witnessing huge air traffic in the last 3 years. The factors behind the increase of aircraft movements and passengers in these years is the rise in FDI, better developments in the sectors, collaboration between foreign banks/companies with airlines etc. The advancement in the sector has shown a promising future for aviation industry but on the other hand has raised safety concerns for the consumers.
Rising safety issues of consumers due to following reasons:
- Flight Disruptions
- Denied boarding or delayed boarding without due notice to the passengers
- Abrupt flight cancellations in ordinary circumstances
- Flight cancellation or delays due to extra-ordinary circumstances
Government Regulation and consumer rights
The regulations pertaining to civil aviation standards, air safety or to ensure consumer safety and privileges in aforementioned cases are issued and enforced by Directorate General of Civil Aviation. It is also involved in co-coordinating relating regulatory functions & actions with International Civil Aviation Organization. According to the guidelines issued by Directorate General of Civil Aviation dated 15.8.2010, all the airlines have to provide specified facilities to the passengers in case there is denied boarding, cancellation of flights or delays in flights without prior notice to the passengers except under specified extra-ordinary circumstances.
The objective of the guidelines is to provide apposite protection to air travelers in such circumstances and to build cordial relations between the passenger & the service providers.
Let’s take a look at the common facilities to be provided to the consumer at the time of cancellation or delays:-
- Meals/refreshments, without any charge, in relation to their waiting time.
- Hotel accommodation including transfers whenever it is genuinely necessary.
- Compensation/ refund of ticket or both – depending on case to case basis or for genuine fault on the part of airline.
- Reasons leading to denied boarding
- Confirmed booking or issuance of flight tickets is in excess of the seats available in the flight
- Denied boarding against the will of the consumer
- Requisite & legitimate course of action
- Request to passengers to voluntarily give up their seats in lieu of certain benefits/facilities as offered by airline at its own discretion
- The airline must ensure that airport is equipped with dedicated check-in facilities/gate areas to allow feasible & safe offers to the passengers.
In case the boarding is denied against the will of booked traveler, the airline has to compensate in addition to refund of ticket as per the provisions of the prescribed Regulations.
Cancellation of Flight
The airlines should make all the requisite efforts to regularly inform the passengers about the flight cancellation as far in advance as possible from the scheduled departure time on his/her given particulars or in any other reasonable way i.e. fax/e-mail/sms/tele-contact. If they are not informed about cancellation in minimal three hours in advance from the scheduled time of their flight, then Airlines must provide:-
- Compensation for inconvenience caused;
- Refund of tickets if they don’t wish to travel by another carrier’s flight/alternate flight;
- Alternate travel opportunities at no extra cost;
- Aforementioned facilities at the Airport.
Passengers are denied of the right to have compensation if:
- They don’t agree to accept alternate travel arrangements offered by the airline.
- If cancellations are occurred due to extra-ordinary circumstances and the airlines has taken all the relevant measures as the prescribed regulations.
As per the defined Regulations, the airline will offer specified facilities if flight is delayed in following circumstances:-
- If airline expects a delay over and above its original announced departure time or any revised time of departure by:
- 2 hours or more if the block time of the flight is upto 2½ hours; or
- 3 hours or more if the block time of the flight is more than 2½ hours upto 5 hours; or
- 4 hours or more if the block time of the flight is not falling in a) or b) above.
- If reasonably expected time of departure is in excess of 24 hours from the scheduled departure time, then airline should provide facility to the passengers as per the mentioned provisions of regulations.
Passengers are denied of the right to such facilities if:
- Delay is due to the occurrence of extra-ordinary circumstances.
- Airline can prove that information of delay has been provided in advance to the passenger.
What are extra-ordinary circumstances?
Extra-ordinary circumstances are events which are beyond the control of operating airline and are consequently leading to delays or cancellation of flights. The list of events include:-
- Political instability in the state/nation
- Natural disaster(s) i.e. flood, tsunami, cyclone, storm
- Civil war
- Riots or insurrection
- Bomb or any other explosion
- Any government order/rule affecting the aircraft/airline
- Strikes/labor disputes resulting in cessation
- Interruption in work due to inevitable factors and are not in the control of airlines
It also includes the following:-
- Air Traffic Control
- Meteorological conditions
- Security risks or any other factors beyond the control of airlines and affect the ability to flight operations on schedule.
Consumer Rights relating to compensation
If amount of ticket amount is higher than compensation amount, then following shall be given to the passenger:-
- 2000/- or ticket cost whichever is lower if block up time of flights is upto or equal to 1 hour;
- 3000/- or ticket cost whichever is lower if block up time of flights is more than 1 hour and upto & equal to 2 hours;
- 4000/- or ticket cost whichever is lower if block up time of flights is more than 2 hours;
If ticket cost is lower than compensation amount then it will be equal to the cost of the ticket.
Additional ways of offering compensation:-
The passengers shall be provided options to choose from the same. The options include:-
- Refund of Air-Ticket at purchase price
- A flight to first point of departure
- Alternate transportation under similar or alternate mode of transport to the final destination (whenever it is applicable)
- Alternate transportation under similar or alternate mode of transport to the final destination (whenever it is applicable) at a later date at passenger’s convenience, subject to seat availability
The selected option will be considered final and is not alterable.
Provisions with regard to refund of tickets
- Tickets paid by credit cards will be refunded within 7 days from the date of cancellation to the account of credit-card holder.
- Tickets paid by cash will be immediately refunded by the airline offices from where the ticket has been bought.
- Tickets purchased via travel agents, the refund arrangements will be mutually finalized by the passenger & travel agent.
- Airlines will also refund the PSF as collected by the passenger on cancellation or non-utilization of tickets.
- The refund also include refund of extra charges which are over and above the basic fare of the ticket, for instance, congestion charge, fuel surcharge etc.
This holistic guide gives a glimpse to basic consumer rights with regard to airline liabilities in case of delays, cancellations or denied boarding. It is important to be aware of our rights, read the terms & conditions listed in the air-ticket and ensure to have a safe & happy flight.