It is vital that the office of the DGCA amended the guidelines with regard to ‘Denied Boarding’

Though air travel is a tad more expensive than other means of transport, the speed and efficiency of airlines are worth the expense. With the result, the volume of passenger traffic is increasing by the day. Correspondingly, there are also issues such as flight disruptions that could be due to denied boarding, flight cancellations and delays, without due notice to the passengers booked on the flight, and so on, which turn out to be a great nuisance to air commuters.

In order to raise the standards of protection and strengthen the rights of passengers, the Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) laid down certain guidelines that defined ‘Denied Boarding’ and spelt out the compensation/facilities to be offered in case of denied boarding.

However, the financial compensation provided for, is extremely inadequate and ranges between Rs. 2000 and Rs.4000. If the cost of the ticket was less than the amount of compensation, the airline was liable to compensate an amount equivalent to the ticket cost. Additionally, the airline was also required to offer the choice of either refund of the air ticket at the price it was purchased or a flight to the first point of departure or an alternate transportation to the final destination on the same day or on a later date to the guest’s convenience. Once the option was selected by the affected party, he/she did not have the option to switch to another form of compensation. It is also mentioned that people who had preferred alternate transportation are to be offered meals/refreshments and hotel accommodation, if necessary.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that the Consumer Fora have looked at the issue of ‘Denied Boarding’ in a broader perspective, given due consideration to the mental agony and harassment faced by the consumer under the given circumstances and awarded due compensation.

Recently, in the case of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. vs. Lata Sikri, where the complainant was denied boarding and left in the airport for several hours in a state of anxiousness, while all other members in her group were issued boarding passes, the National Commission, while upholding the decision of the District Forum and the State Commission where a compensation of Rs.30,000 was awarded, observed that there was no précised scale for measurement of compensation for the resultant mental agony and harassment that a passenger faced.

The explanation for the word ‘compensation’, as defined by the Apex Court in Ghaziabad Development Authority Vs. Balbir Singh (2004) 5 SCC 65 was quoted and the Commission held that the Consumer Fora was thus well within its rights to award compensation not only for the monetary loss or injury suffered by the complainant but also for injustice suffered by the consumer.

In a similar instance of denied boarding in the case of Air India (NACIL) Vs. P.K. Daga, decided by the State Disputes Redressal Commission of Chandigarh, the Commission ordered a compensation of Rs.25,000 and Rs.10,000 as costs.

Even as it is good see the consumer friendly approach adopted by the Consumer Fora, it is vital that the office of the DGCA amends the guidelines keeping in view the interest of the air passengers and it is important for the airlines to assume a more constructive outlook.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)