– Shivika Sharma
The rights of air passengers vary from country to country.
In India, the regulatory body for Civil Aviation is the Directorate General of Civil Aviation which deals with safety issues. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is responsible for the regulation of air transport services and safety. Its main objective is to promote safe and efficient air services. It also coordinates with the International Civil Aviation Organization. The headquarters are located in New Delhi and its regional offices are in various parts of India.
As per the new Air Passenger Charter 2019, the air passengers have rights that cover compensation for various problems like flight delay, baggage loss or damage, cancellation and denied boarding, or in cases of any kind of time irregularities caused by the airline authorities. But there would be no obligations on airlines in cases where there is the presence of those circumstances which are not in hands of their control; extraordinary circumstances such as radar failure, severe weather, and strike.
Initiatives by the Ministry of Civil Aviation
To understand it better we need to first understand the following initiatives which are been proposed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to ensure and provide a hassle-free travel experience. For air passengers, a Draft of the Passenger Charter outlining the rights is been notified for public opinion in 2019 with the aim that it will aid to provide a smooth air travel experience. If the airline is rung in to be at fault then benefits will vary accordingly to the below mentions situations.
Delays and Cancellations: In cases where the flight is expected to differ for more than 4 hours from the circulated expected time of takeoff or hitherto revised takeoff time which is brought to notice more than 24 hrs prior to the original expected takeoff time, airlines to bid an option of full rebate of the ticket to the passenger. When the wait is more than 24 hours from the published expected time of takeoff and involves a flight to fly on the next day, passengers are offered free-of-charge hotel accommodation.
Airlines to reimburse passengers for missing connecting flights:
- If delay more than 3 hours: INR 5,000
- If delay between 4 and 12 hours: INR 10,000
- If delay more than 12 hours: INR 20,000
When the flight is stationed on the runway for more than one hour, satisfactory and free-of-charge sultry snacks need to be provided to the passengers, and when the flight is stationed on the runway for more than one hour and 30 minutes with no probability of takeoff in next 30 minutes, passengers must be de-boarded. In circumstances where there suppose to be a flight cancellation plus when a passenger is brought to notice of the flight cancellation less than two weeks before and up to 24 hrs of the expected takeoff time, the airline needs to offer an alternate flight allowing the passenger to depart within two hours of the previously booked expected takeoff time or rebate the ticket, as acceptable to the passenger, and where there is a situation where the passenger is not notified up to 24 hours of the expected takeoff time, the airlines must rebate the complete value of the air ticket.
Passenger dies or meets with bodily injuries onboard an aircraft: the maximum amount to be paid by the airline must be the same for both international and domestic passengers.
Baggage delayed, lost, or damaged:
The limit of liability (the maximum amount) to be paid by the airline is the same for both international & domestic passengers & the minimum compensation will be as follows: Rs. 3,000 per kg for loss of baggage, Rs. 1,000 per kg for the delay and is same for damage of baggage.
If there is a case of ticket cancellation, the airline is not to charge any kind of additional charge for rectification in name of the same person when name correction is required up to three characters only and when any lapse is found in the name spelling which is pointed out by the traveler to the airline within 24 hours of making a reservation.
Cancellation charges must be printed evidently in the ticket itself at least in font size of 12. As part of the reservation and ticket documentation, this information must also be provided. There will be no circumstance where the airline (be it the online or offline agent) tariff cancellation charges that total more than the basic fare and fuel surcharge. There is also a lock-in option available with the passenger for 24 hrs after booking the ticket in which the traveler can cancel or make minor changes to the ticket without any additional charges.
There are seats that are appropriate and acceptable for persons with disabilities free of charge, which will remain blocked until close to the time of takeoff.
Every airport must have the following medical facilities at the airport:
A Medical doctor is available at every hour in the airport which is operational, Ambulance, medical support which includes oxygen cylinders and defibrillators, medical personnel who have medical expertise, and are trained, and also Standard Operating Procedures for medical emergencies for both inward and outward travelers. Airports must also have meet-and-greet facilities for all travelers. They must also ensure that there are toilets outside takeoff and arrival terminals. Airlines must provide a minimum of one Helpdesk for passengers. It should also provide passengers with Wi-Fi services for 30 minutes. Airports must ensure reasonable Food & Beverage outlets.
Digi-Yatra, a new digital experience for air travelers-passengers is an industry that led an initiative coordinated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in line with the Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s Digital India vision which is an idea to transform the nation into a digitally empowered, strong society. It aims to transform the flying experience for travelers and position Indian Aviation amongst the most innovative aviation networks in the world. It is a kind of choice available to the traveler to opt for the facility. Its main features are: to digitize the air-travel experience by the use of digital technology for the embellished traveler experience all the way from ticket booking to airport entry check, security check, and aircraft boarding Single-point verification. Travelers enroll in Digi-Yatra program through AirSewa, and a DigiYatra verified traveler gets difficulty, problem-free entry at the airport through E-Gates. The verification of the ids will be done by the BCAS-approved Government ID. A single token for the traveler is created at the entry gate.
This program also enhances security while aiding convenience for travelers.
We also have the AirSewa app which brings together all the collaborators on a common platform to provide speedy and powerful handling of customer grievances and to circulate and publish real-time data.
However, the above initiatives mentioned in the charter do not have any legal statutory backing.
There is a Civil Aviation Requirement which has section 3 of air transport series ‘m’ issued by the regulatory body for Civil Aviation is the Directorate General of Civil Aviation that does though deal with a refund of airline tickets but only the delay in refund of the unused tickets and to adjust the number of canceled tickets for future travels in the same airline which is valid for a limited period of time. The CAR has legal sanctity as it has been issued in public interests per Rule 133 Aircraft Rules, 1937 which in turn were standardized by the Indian Government in conformity with the Aircraft Act, 1934.
There is a case of Delhi High Court,
Air India Ltd. versus Tej Shoe Exporters P. Ltd. And Anr on 19 September 2013
The case was filed under section 21 read with section 12 of the consumer protection act for the value of loss of goods. The suit filed was period of time-barred.
In India, we just have the Consumer Protection Act 1986 which was repealed, and in place of that the Consumer Protection Act 2019 got enacted. This is an act which is there to provide for the protection of the interests of consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective services of consumers and to resolve their disputes, for consumer complaints. But neither of them has any remedies or protection for air passengers.
During the outbreak of covid19, we observed that aviation remained closed for almost two months and passengers had to stay indoors during the period of lockdown.
Flights in India were not allowed since 25 March 2020 by the Indian government which has forced all domestic and international airlines to suspend flights. The Ministry of Civil Aviation had interpretation regarding the cancellation and subsequent rebate of domestic and international flight tickets which are been booked and for which the payments were received by the airline. But there was no circular which had been issued regarding the rebate of tickets booked before the flight operations were suspended. Public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed against the Indian Government before the Honorable Supreme Court of India regarding that the circular issued by the Government for the rebate is prejudiced as it does not cover the cases where tickets were booked before 25/03/2020 for air travel which had to be canceled as flight operations were suspended due to the nationwide lockdown. This reflects the need for a dedicated Indian Law for Air Passenger Protection which is the Need of the Hour Today.
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