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Know Your Rights: What are Airlines responsible for and what you can claim?

by Legal DesireJanuary 16, 2018

These days we all have been covered with the news of airlines and their policies. Some of it have left us questioning airline policies. Especially when you read about people being turned away from flights for what they are wearing or being pulled off the plane by security when you are a paying customer in a recent case happened with Indigo Passenger. It’s important to stay informed about the refund policies of your airline for delays, cancellations, being denied boarding, loss or damage, or delayed arrival of baggage.

So Here we’re with a list of your rights and eligibility to claim them from airlines.

Flight cancellation

Airline regulations for passenger flights are mostly enforced by the government; this keeps the rights the same across the board for all airlines. However, there is no regulation on what needs to be done when a flight has been canceled. It’s mostly handled in the contract between the passenger and the airline. It does appear that most airlines in their contracts will offer two different options to their passengers in the event a flight is canceled, 1) provide a seat on the next available flight to your destination or 2) a refund for the unused portion of the ticket.

The airline is liable to provide compensation or facilities if it expects a delay beyond the actual scheduled departure time or revised departure time.

Captain Archit Gupta, CEO of Atom Aviation Services says, “If a flight is delayed by less than 24 hours, the airline has to provide meals and refreshments to passengers. If the delay is exceeds 24 hours, hotel accommodation and transfers must be provided.”

If a flight is cancelled, passengers should be informed at least two weeks before the scheduled date of departure and the choice of a refund or alternate flight should be offered to them. But if the airline operator fails to inform them, they have to be compensated in addition to receiving the refund of the air ticket price, in accordance with DGCA guidelines.

According to reports by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), between January and April 2017, close to 5.12 lakh domestic passengers in India faced issues due to airline companies denying boarding, as well as flight cancellations and delays. Airline companies have paid their passengers compensations of over Rs 22 crore for various inconveniences during the first four months of this year.

Although the airline will provide a seat on the next available flight at no additional cost, this does not ensure that you will get the same seat that you previously purchased. If there is not a seat available in the class that was purchased most airlines will either move up a class with no additional cost to the passenger, or they might have to lower a passenger’s class with a refund of the difference.


Missing Connecting Flight

In a relief to fliers, the national consumer commission has held that ‘it is the airline’s responsibility to schedule your itinerary in such a way that you don’t miss connecting flights on the same airline.’ The national commission directed Jet Airways to pay Rs 75,000 and refund the tickets’ cost to a senior citizen couple who missed their connecting flight from Mumbai to Hong Kong in 2010. The couple had flown on the airline’s flight from Jaipur to Mumbai.

“If Jet Airways schedules a flight to land at one airport at a particular time and another connecting flight to take off at a particular time, it must provide for time required in all functions, including security, immigration and air traffic management, which are necessarily concerned with or mandated for such landing and departure. The travelling public is in no way responsible for delay caused by any of them,” stated the National Consumer Disputes Commission.

In January 2010, Vandana Jain (58) and Subhash Bhatnagar (64) were to arrive at Mumbai at 10.20pm after which they were to board another flight on the same airline at 1.50am. However, the flight from Jaipur was delayed and it reached Mumbai at 11.40pm. They were assured by the airline that the connecting flight would be available and they would get all assistance at Mumbai airport from their staff. The couple was issued boarding passes for the Hong Kong flight at Jaipur itself. They alleged that on reaching Mumbai, no assistance was provided to them and the shuttle for the international airport was delayed by 30-45 minutes. The couple said that due to long queues at immigration and security checks, they missed the flight to Hong Kong.

The airline staff then got the immigration stamp and security check stamp cancelled and refused to board them on the next flight. They had to buy fresh tickets on another airline at 5.30am.They filed a complaint in the state commission, which passed an order in their favour in January 2013. Aggrieved, the airline filed an appeal in the national commission.

The commission refuted the airline’s contention that two other passengers were successfully boarded and the couple were to blame for missing their flight. The commission further denied the argument that the delay in arrival of the Mumbai-bound flight due to air traffic congestion at Mumbai airport resulted in delay in landing of the flight.


Overbooked flight

If there are not enough seats left on the flight after asking for volunteers, it is legal for an airline to deny a seat based on the criteria the airline has put in place and which has been agreed upon with the passenger when they booked the flight. The criteria are not set in place by the government regulations so the standards can vary from airline to airline. Some of the common criteria used are based on:

  • Passenger check in time
  • The fare paid by the passenger
  • A passenger’s flyer status

The US Department of Transportation states that “the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.” For example, a passenger can not be denied a seat based on their race or ethnicity. A passenger who is involuntarily removed from the flight is required to receive a written notice explaining their rights and the criteria they use to when deciding who gets removed. They also can be compensated for the price of the ticket and for the length of time they are delayed before reaching their destination.

Lost Luggage

All airlines are required to compensate for any lost, damaged, or delayed baggage. The airline is responsible for paying for any damages done to the luggage, for any expenses a passenger incurs while waiting for delayed baggage, and reimbursing a passenger for the value of any belonging that has been lost. To be able to be refunded in any situation a passenger is required to file a claim with the airline and provide any documentation (such as receipts) to back up their claims and receive compensation.

Airlines are required to file any reports, even if the airline agent believes the airline is not liable. That includes, reports of mishandled baggage, complaints of damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles, and anything beyond normal wear and tear to the baggage.

Check your eligibility

If an airline refuses to let you board your flight, you need to figure out whether you are eligible to claim compensation. You can claim compensation from airlines for being denied boarding, if you are holding a confirmed ticket at the time of boarding and you are present at the time specified by the airline but Passenger can’t claim compensation for being denied boarding if they are not carrying valid travel documents.

What to do if you’re denied boarding?

Rishabh Beria, Managing Director at Janus Aviation says, “The airline is not liable to pay any compensation if they arrange for an alternate flight scheduled to depart within one hour of the originally scheduled departure time.”

However, if the airline fails to do so, you can claim compensation. For denying boarding, airlines have to provide monetary compensation to passengers in cash or through bank transfer, or if the passenger agrees, in the form of travel vouchers.

Compensation for being denied boarding

Here’s what you can expect if you are not allowed to board the flight.

Compensation for delay or cancellation

Here’s what you can demand if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

Note: Block time means aircraft travel time from the departure gate to arrival gate.

Daniel D’souza, Head of Sales, India and NRI Markets, SOTC Travel, adds, “If they need to travel urgently, and their flight is delayed or cancelled, passengers can also ask to be accommodated on a different airline’s flight. The airline would then bear the additional cost.”

However, airlines are not obligated to pay compensations if the delay or cancellation is caused by bad weather, political unrest, a natural disaster or labour disputes.

Refund process

The refund process is fairly straightforward. The airline is mandated to follow the civil aviation requirements issued by the DGCA. The compensation has to be paid in cash, bank transfer or travel vouchers, according to the preference of the customer.

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