On Wednesday, the Apex Court directed consumer rights body Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP), party to the petition, to file an affidavit on suggested amendments to the aviation regulator’s affidavit on refunds for air tickets booked during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Last week, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in its affidavit to the Supreme Court said that all airlines will refund the amount for tickets that were booked in the first & second lockdown period. It had, however, said that a financially unstable airline can offer credit shells to passengers.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Apex Court also asked airlines to reply to DGCA’s affidavit on refund to passengers booked to fly during the first 2 lockdowns.
According to MGP, senior citizens shouldn’t be asked to use credit shells, & airlines should not ask passengers to pay the fare difference. Instead, they should be allowed to fly on the original ticket price until March 2021. A credit shell is an open ticket, issued when an airline holds on to the booking amount in the form of credit.
Lawyer Shirish Deshpande, chairman, MGP said that “Spice Jet & Indigo are more or less comfortable but Go Air was not happy with the DGCA affidavit. MGP wants some changes in the affidavit too. Hence, all stakeholders who have anything to say on the government proposal are asked to file their affidavits in one week”.
The next hearing is scheduled for Sept 23. SC has directed all the airlines as well as MGP to submit their affidavits by Sept 16.
Deshpande said that “On the whole, the proposal of the civil aviation ministry is welcomed by us, as it tries to harmonise & balance the interest of both passengers & the airlines. There is, however, a need for further relief. In the present situation, senior citizens are advised not to travel & hence it will be in consonance with government policy to direct airlines to refund the ticket amounts to senior citizens forthwith. There’s also a need to protect these passengers against the possible fare hike & they should be allowed to travel till March 31 on the same fare”.
DGCA, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, said that tickets booked for domestic & international carriers between March 25 & May 3 will be fully refunded within fifteen days.
It added that “If on account of financial distress, if the airlines are not able to do so, they shall provide a credit shell equal to the amount of fare collected. This credit shell shall be issued in the name of the passenger who has booked the ticket”.
The DGCA affidavit said that passengers will be able to use the credit shell up to March 31, 2021, & change the flight sector.
This means that a passenger booked on a Mumbai-Indore flight can change his/ her sector & fly to any other destination until March 2021.
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An order was issued by Supreme Court on June 13 asking private airlines & the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to find a way to refund the airfare of passengers whose flights were cancelled during the lockdown. It was then the meetings were held with all the stakeholders in July & it was decided that tickets booked directly by passengers during lockdown 1 & 2 will be fully refunded.
Questioning DGCAs affidavit, an Ex-DGCA official said, “Which airline is doing financially well with this pandemic? Why will an airline provide a refund when they can state that they are currently financially unstable & hence, cannot provide a refund?”