By Linus Garg
First publised on 2020-04-19 08:34:32
Due to the suspension of domestic and international air travel in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian aviation sector is going through troubled times. But that does not mean it has acquired the license to resort to unethical business practices. When the lockdown was first announced from March 24 to April 14, many people had booked tickets in advance for travel during the period. When the lockdown was extended until May 3, the number of such people increased. Ideally, the airlines should have given a full refund to pre-booked passengers whose flights were cancelled due to the lockdown.
But the airlines did not provide full refunds. Instead, they offered the flyers two choices. Either let the money remain with the airlines to be adjusted for any future travel or get refunds after deduction of standard cancellation charges, which in some sectors are more than the cost of the ticket. This is grossly unfair, unjust and unethical. The aviation ministry had to issue a circular asking the airlines to issue full refunds to passengers within three weeks if they applied for the same.
This whole issue of cancellation and refunds needs to be settled once and for all and this is the best time to do so. When people book a flight ticket, they are provided with a few options. They can opt to book a simple ticket where standard cancellation charges would apply for any refund in case of no show or cancellation on part of the customer. They can pay an additional charge and can opt for rescheduling their journey date. In that case, they cannot claim the full refund but only change the date. If the flight is cancelled by the airlines, the customer can either opt for taking another flight or claim a full refund. But what happens in cases where neither the customer nor the airlines are at fault? That has not been specified anywhere, leading to the current situation.
The aviation ministry is now said to be thinking of issuing guidelines for refunds. It is about time. The whole issue should be examined thoroughly and the matter should be resolved after considering the best practices being followed in the aviation sector worldwide. It is not proper to bind the customer with a credit voucher for future travel if he or she wishes to get his money back. They must be given full refunds if unforeseen circumstances result in the cancellation of the flight. The ministry has also rightly stopped the airlines from accepting fresh bookings after May 3 for both domestic and international travel until a final call is taken on the lockdown.