If you are the kind of person who likes to make impulsive travel plans, only to regret at leisure when circumstances force you to cancel, you may find some relief in the draft passenger charter made public by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on Tuesday.
According to a key provision in the charter, air travellers can cancel their tickets free of cost within 24 hours of booking, and four days (or 96 hours) before the scheduled departure.
The draft charter will be open for stakeholders’ consultation for 30 days. The Ministry aims to notify the final version within two months, after which domestic airlines will have to comply with its provisions.
The draft charter also lays down compensation norms for passengers. It proposes that in case a passenger is informed about a flight cancellation between two weeks to 24 hours before the flight, the airline must either offer an alternate flight that departs within two hours of the scheduled departure of the flight booked originally, or refund the ticket.
If the airline doesn’t inform passengers about a cancelled flight up to 24 hours of the scheduled departure time, the airline will have to refund the full value of the air ticket.
Similarly, in case of delays communicated more than 24 hours before the scheduled departure, the airline must offer an option of a full refund of the ticket cost if the delay is for more than four hours. If the delay results in the flight departing the next day, then the airline will have to offer a free hotel stay. These norms will be applicable only if the delay is due to the fault of the airline, and not if it is caused by bad weather. If a delay results in a passenger missing a connecting flight, then the airline will have to pay ₹5,000 to ₹20,000.
In case of loss of baggage, the minimum compensation proposed is ₹3,000 per kg. If baggage is delayed or damaged, the airline is liable to pay ₹1,000 per kg. The draft also suggests that an airline and its agents should not levy a cancellation charge that is more than the sum of basic fare and fuel surcharge.
The Ministry has also proposed that passengers not be made to pay extra for a correction in their names if the error is pointed out within 24 hours of making a reservation, provided the rectification is required for no more than three characters.
If the passenger doesn’t receive the due compensation, grievances can be filed on the Ministry’s AirSewa app or at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation portal.
Airlines seek flexibility
The charter, however, needs to be accepted by the airlines for it to become a reality. Industry sources said that during the consultations with the government, they had sought flexibility in the manner of compensation, such as through travel coupons instead of a complete refund.
“The draft charter brings together the rights and privileges of passengers,” said Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha at a press conference.
Travel portal Yatra.com welcomed the proposal. "We are sure that the industry will respond positively to these measures and adopt a more transparent and accountable approach towards customer experience,” said a spokesperson. “Consumer protection has been enhanced through significant compensation for airline service failures. However, implementation is the key. Educating passengers about rights must be accompanied by an oversight regime which ensures that airlines comply," said aviation think tank CAPA.
“Some of the proposed changes would be difficult, impractical, or cost-prohibitive to implement,” said a Vistara spokesperson. “They could cause airfares to rise for all, in a price-sensitive country where average airfares are amongst the lowest in the world.”