The civil aviation ministry on Tuesday proposed a series of consumer-friendly measures relating to charges for cancellation of tickets, lost baggage, missing connecting flights and denial to board if the flight is overbooked, which once finalised will put in place a structured system where currently everything not only varies from airline to airline but is also at their discretion.
The most important of the measures unveiled is the abolition of cancellation charges for domestic flight tickets if the cancellation is made within 24 hours of booking.
However, the proposed rule won’t apply if the tickets are booked less than 96 hours (four days) before the scheduled departure time of the flight.
During this 24-hour “lock-in period”, passengers would be able to make corrections in names or amend the travel date free of cost, minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha said while unveiling the draft air passengers charter.
“The airline will provide lock-in option for 24 hours after booking ticket where ticket can be cancelled without any charges. This facility will be available for passenger up to 96 hours prior to flight departure,” he said.
“We want to ensure safe and convenient passenger travel experience. After several rounds of consultations, we have come with a holistic passenger charter. It will help us achieve the goal of seamless air travel,” Sinha added.
Currently, there’s no uniform system in place in this regard. While some airlines already provide this service, some charge a fee for corrections. The charter, once finalised after comments from stakeholders, will be binding on all airlines in the domestic sector. The charter has been placed in the public domain and the consultation process will be open for 30 days. The changes could be notified in two months after the consultation process, he said.
The charter proposes that passengers would be compensated Rs 20,000 on missing connecting flights if the delay is over 12 hours, and Rs 10,000 if the delay is between 4 and 12 hours. If the delay is more than three hours, the compensation will be Rs 5,000.
According to the charter, the cancellation charges should be printed prominently on the ticket and the airline and their agents together should not, under any circumstances, levy cancellation charge more than the basic fare plus fuel surcharge.
Under existing rules, different airlines charge varying amounts on cancellation. There have been several complaints by passengers about airlines refusing a refund or charging an inordinately hefty cancellation fee.
The charter also proposes that if the passenger is informed about cancellation of a flight less than two weeks before and up to 24 hours of the scheduled departure time, the airline must offer an alternative flight allowing the passenger to depart within two hours of the booked scheduled departure time or refund the ticket, as acceptable to the passenger.
Further, if the flight delay is communicated by the airline more than 24 hours prior to original scheduled time and if the flight is delayed for more than four hours, then airlines will have to offer an option of full refund of ticket.
In case of a passenger denied boarding, airlines are liable to pay a minimum compensation of up to Rs 20,000 if the departure time is beyond 24 hours, according to the proposed charter.
To make the airlines disabled-friendly, the charter proposes that airlines should have seats blocked which are accessible for persons with disabilities with adequate leg space, free of charge. It said that seats should also remain blocked until close to the time of departure.
Some of the measures announced by the aviation ministry in the charter were opposed by the airlines’ body, Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA). However, on Tuesday some carriers and travel agencies, which also come under its ambit, welcomed the move.
“Vistara fully supports the initiative to bring more transparency, accountability, and customer convenience for air travellers,” a company spokesperson said.
“The reforms initiated by the civil aviation ministry is a welcome move and in the interest of passengers. These moves are well-timed as the Indian air passenger market is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, with a large number of first time fliers,” a spokesperson for Yatra.com said.