New Delhi: India’s aviation regulator will shortly lay down guidelines on fares and refund timelines, and ban charges on certain services such as for providing wheelchairs.
“The intention is to check airfare prices from going up extraordinarily in these difficult times,” said director general of civil aviation Bharat Bhushan.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) new rules will be implemented after being approved by the aviation ministry.
Airlines will be asked to be more transparent in their fare structures, said another government official, who declined to be identified.
Carriers will need to explicitly mention all the components in their fares, including fuel surcharges, airport taxes, service taxes and insurance.
Components that are not a part of the airfare such as excess baggage charges have to be highlighted during booking.
Airline firms will be barred from charging for wheelchairs, seat assignments and assisting unaccompanied minors.
The new rules will also require airfares to be commensurate with distances. For example, if a Delhi-Dehradun flight ticket is available for Rs 3,000, a Delhi-Kullu flight of an equal distance cannot be charged at Rs 15,000.
DGCA will also mandate under the new rules that airlines ensure refunds to passengers are released within one week in cash or by transfer. Currently, some airlines do not provide refunds and instead ask passengers to offset the money in a future flight within one year.
Airlines will be asked to keep airfares within a reasonable level and any big hike should be commensurate with changes in operating costs, say, because of a rise in jet fuel prices.
This means if there is an exponential increase in the airfare on a particular day because of a popular event such as a cricket match, festival or a concert, DGCA can seek an explanation from the airline, the government official said.
“You can’t touch the maximum and minimum fares often unless there is a significant change in the external operating environment,” he said. “For any change, airlines need to intimate DGCA within 24 hours.”
Last year, during the peak travel season of October-December, airlines across the board hiked airfares, leading to intervention by the aviation ministry.
After a warning to airline chiefs, the ministry constituted a civil aviation economic advisory council to find ways of simplifying airfares.
The ministry also made it mandatory for all airlines to display minimum and maximum fares on all routes on their websites at the beginning of every month.
Sudhakar Reddy, national president of Chennai-based consumer body Air Passenger Association of India and a member of the advisory council, said he expects a repeat of high airfares this season too.
“You cannot control prices,” he said. “It is only that the government has to ensure there is enough capacity... Only between metros there is enough capacity. We need a lot more capacity.”
Reddy said the aviation industry needs an ombudsman urgently.
India’s airline market, which crossed 52 million passengers last year and is expected to grow to 60 million this year, is seeing an increase in the number of complaints, many of them on lost or damaged baggage and refunds.
“We are working on a plan to make an ombudsman. We have submitted a 25-page suggestion letter to the ministry recently, and the meeting is scheduled in October,” Reddy said. “Once it is appointed, passengers will be able to approach it. If the problem is not resolved there, then he can take it to the next level in DGCA.”