Travel booking portal Goibibo, a company owned by MakeMyTrip, has become the target of social media outrage by many air travellers unable to receive either their refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19 or customer care support despite a recent order by the Supreme Court.
Sanchita Chandar, a Bangalore-based dentist, had booked a return journey to Kathmandu for April to volunteer as a health worker through the portal. Six months on, she is yet to receive ₹18,500 for flights booked on IndiGo and Royal Nepal Airline.
The Supreme Court ordered on October 1 that domestic airlines will have to refund tickets booked during the lockdown for travel during the freeze and credit shells may be issued by airlines if tickets were booked before the lockdown. However, passengers say that in cases where airlines have issued a full refund, Goibibo has not passed on the benefit.
The travel portal and other travel agents say that airlines have not been giving cash refunds to them in many cases but issuing only credit shells, while expecting that agents will issue cash refunds to passengers.
“IndiGo has told me that they have approved my cancellation and that it has sent the refund of ₹12,000 to Goibibo, through which I had made the booking. On the latter’s website, it shows that the refund has been processed and that it should be reflecting in my account, but that is yet to happen,” explains the 28-year-old dentist.
“They have no customer support and all phone calls elicit a pre-recorded response; there is no e-mail address I can write to or even a chat bot which can answer my queries. Twitter is the only medium through which I received a response, only after tagging a journalist. There is absolutely no accountability,” Dr. Chandar added.
In one of the recent exchanges reviewed by The Hindu , Goibibo told Dr. Chandar on September 28 that the ticket cost will be deposited to her bank account by October 4. But 12 days later, there is no sign of the cash transfer.
In response to a query by this correspondent, a spokesperson for MakeMyTrip, which owns Goibibo, said, “We have refunded the money wherever refunds have been issued by our airline partners and we are offering booking on platform through credit shells wherever the airlines have released the refunds through credit shell. As always, we continue to work closely with our airline partners to seamlessly pass on the benefits to our customers through the mode offered by the airlines.”
Another Kochi-based doctor, who did not want to be identified, is yet to receive ₹2 lakh she spent on booking a flight for two from Kochi to Vancouver for May 2 with Air Canada. The flight was booked on March 4, and following travel restrictions imposed by India and around the world, the couple was informed on April 4 that “your booking has been cancelled with full refund” and that they don’t have to follow up any more. The airline, too, informed them that all requests for refunds will have to be made to the travel agent through whom the booking was made.
But the lady doctor was shocked to receive a message on October 13, when Goibibo informed her that she will have to contact Air Canada for her refund request and that this was the “final solution” being offered to her. Both passengers were also offered credit shells by Goibibo in lieu of a cash refund, but the doctor from Kerala said that the conditions imposed on claiming these credit shells are prohibitive – “we can’t change the airport of origin, we can’t transfer the amount to a third person, and we must book with the same airline.”
“Airline and travel agency playing games with customers! @flyspicejet claims they have transferred full refund to @goibibo who claim they only have a credit shell. One or both are lying and trying to defeat SC order,” tweeted Soumitra Pathare, a well-known psychiatrist.
The court order recognised the contract between passengers and airlines and offered both parties partial relief, but travel agents were left unhappy. The order allows airlines to issue credit shells where purchases were made by travel agents, while the latter are expected to issue cash refunds to passengers.
An owner of a travel portal explained the issue on the condition of anonymity. “After the SC order, there have been tens of thousands of requests for refunds. A travel agent has to process refunds worth crores at once, but there is inadequate cash inflow as sales haven’t kept pace. At the same time, airlines have not issued cash refunds to travel agents, but only given digital money or credit shells.
The parent company, MakeMyTrip, it is learnt, too has been issuing digital wallets but its customers are not complaining as the facility has been offered by the website for several years and its patrons use it habitually.
“The agents fraternity needed cash refunds. We the travel agents have become financiers for the airlines,” said a press statement from the Travel Agents Association of India on the Supreme Court judgment.