It neither mentions timelines for refund or compensation, nor talks about penal provisions for airlines.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Pune resident Vandana Saxena Poria was supposed to fly from Mumbai to Bangkok on Tuesday, with a connecting flight to Australia.
The Mumbai-Bangkok flight was on an Indian carrier, which sent a message to Poria that her flight had been cancelled.
She called up the airline but couldn’t speak to an executive despite being put on hold for 60 minutes.
She reached out to the online travel agent, and the international airway that would take her from Bangkok to Australia.
But, both tried to wash their hands off with the plea that it was the Indian carrier’s responsibility.
Eventually, she got a seat on an earlier flight to Bangkok, for which she was not prepared.
According to the newly introduced passenger charter, the airline should offer Poria an alternative flight or refund, whichever is acceptable to the passenger.
The charter, which lists a flier’s rights, was revised on February 27.
It has introduced new provisions for flight delays; boarding denied due to overbooking; flight diversions; cancellation of tickets, etc.
Among the newly introduced provisions, a few will benefit fliers.
Earlier, if a person had made a mistake in his name when buying the ticket, he had to cancel and buy a new one.
Now, if the passenger asks for a correction within 24 hours of booking, it can be done free of cost.
There’s compensation for missing connecting flights due to the airline’s fault, which was not covered earlier.
Fliers can also cancel or modify their tickets within 24 hours, without paying any charge, provided the flight departs seven days later.
Experts are not convinced the charter will be able to address customer grievances fully.
“Some of the new provisions in the charter dilute it.
"Moreover, it doesn’t talk about the timeline within which the airline must act,” says D Sudhakara Reddy, founder and national president, Air Passengers Association of India (APAI).
Aviation experts say a lot more could have been done.
“The government had the opportunity to empower fliers, as has been done in the European Union’s flight compensation regulations.
"The recently-introduced charter has many loopholes that will allow airlines to deny compensation to passengers,” says Devesh Agarwal, a Bengaluru-based aviation expert.
He points out that if an airline does not follow the provisions, the charter does not mention how it will be penalised.
There is no way for a traveller to know if the regulator has acted on his complaint.
Passenger rights are also not applicable if the event is beyond the airline’s control, like a natural disaster, political instability, riots, flood, delays attributed to Air Traffic Control, and so on.
In the past, airlines have not compensated passengers, laying the blame on ‘technical fault’.
They only refund the cost of the ticket.
Aviation experts say this will continue as the new regulations do not cover ‘technical problems’.
The civil aviation ministry is hoping that self-regulation by airlines will work.
“We hope self-regulation will work and airlines and airports will implement the regulations.
"At present, there is no mechanism to ensure implementation on a day-to-day basis.
"Customers can report grievances on the AirSewa app.
"Also, the civil aviation ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation take regular feedback from airlines on complaints received and redressed.
"The ministry is also considering a data monitoring system which would analyse all air traffic data and this could help in framing new regulations or making existing rules effective,” says a source.
Passengers like Poria need to complain and wait for a resolution, if they are unable to get through to the airline’s contact centre.
“Such a situation arises when an airline has cancelled a large number of flights, and is unprepared to deal with a high volume of calls.
"Passengers have to write to them for compensation in case of cancellation. Typically, airlines do not volunteer to pay on their own,” says a source in a domestic airline.