Airlines will supply refunds for cancelled commute right through the nationwide lockdown on tickets booked in advance, the Centre has proposed in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, reiterating that similar returns will be processed for bookings made right through the period of curbs.
On June 12, the apex court, while hearing a plea filed by NGO Pravasi Legitimate Cell, asked the Centre, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and airlines to talk about full refunds of tickets for domestic and international flights that were cancelled because of the commute restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
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In the affidavit filed before the Supreme Court after the deliberations, the civil aviation ministry and DGCA have proposed that each one passengers will be entitled to refund of their tickets booked before March 25 inside 15 days.
“Whether the tickets have been booked right through the first lockdown period, that is March 25, to April 14, 2020 for the journeys to be undertaken in both first and second lockdown period that is from March 25 to May 3, 2020, in all such cases, full refund shall be provided by the airlines immediately (this is being mandated vide MoCA’s OM dated April 16, 2020 as the airlines were not supposed to book such tickets),” said the affidavit, seen by HT.
“For all other cases, the airlines shall make all endeavors to refund the collected amount to the passenger inside 15 days.”
The scheme also said that whether an airline isn’t in a financial position to pay immediately, the fare amount shall be kept in a “credit shell” to be availed by the passenger for commute by the same airline on any route before March 31, 2021. This option isn’t to be had to foreign carriers, who should refund the amount inside 15 days, according to the proposal.
Whether the passenger does not need to commute, the credit shell may also be transferred to another person, it added. Whether the amount is unused, interest will accrue each month on this amount and the same is to be refunded in full after March 31, 2021, according to the proposal.
A notification by DGCA from April 16 prior to now referred to full refund of tickets booked right through the lockdown period. Alternatively, people who booked tickets prior to this date had approached the Supreme Court seeking refunds. On June 12, the court directed the Centre to find a solution after consulting airline operators and commute agents. A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan will believe the Centre’s affidavit when it takes up the petitions on September 9.
In an interview to HT on May 7, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said that his ministry had issued a directive to airlines to reimburse passengers who had booked tickets right through the lockdown period. He said the government will want to look at the interest of the passengers primarily, but also look at the situation of the airlines.
Advocate Jose Abraham, who is representing Pravasi Legitimate Cell, told HT: “Nearly 95% of petitioners before the court had booked tickets before the lockdown started. The April 16 notification of DGCA was once of no consequence to us. Even the credit shell proposed under it contained inflexible terms. The present solution of the DGCA has balanced the interests of passengers by protecting their money and allowed bendy terms on credit shell.”
Officials of the civil aviation ministry and DGCA held two rounds of discussions with airline operators on July 2 and 8 before finalising the proposal. The affidavit stated that non-refund of fares and creating of involuntary credit shell by airlines was once a lucid violation of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) and passenger constitution.
“This kind of enforcement action would further restrict/minimize their (airline) operations and thus such a enforcement action may further jeopardize the possibilities of generation of cash by the airline which can further adversely have an effect on/delay the refund cycle,” the affidavit said.
This scheme will be relevant to Indian carriers who are liable for refund on all domestic and international routes. Even for tickets booked through commute agents, the credit shell will be in the name of the passenger and the refunds, whether any, will be transferred by the commute agent to the passengers.
“The above proposal is formulated by the respondent (Centre) as an exception keeping in view the precipitating problems right through Covid-19 pandemic and is without prejudice to the regulatory framework as given in the CARs referred to above,” the affidavit said.
Requests for comments from SpiceJet, Vistara and IndiGo remained unanswered till the time of going to print.
A spokesperson for MakeMyTrip said: “As an middleman, we have been passing on the refunds to our customers from the airlines in the manner as has been issued by them — be it cash refunds or credit shell and we will be able to continue to do the same. So far as this affidavit is concerned, we will be able to only have the ability to remark on it after going through the same.”