New Delhi:Air travellers who cancel or re-schedule their tickets within 24 hours of booking will not have to pay penal charges if the government enforces a new charter, a draft of which was released on Tuesday.

This, and a host of other steps to protect rights of passengers, are part of the draft charter that was released by the civil aviation ministry for public consultation.

The rights available to passengers under the proposed charter include compulsory refund of the full fare if flight cancellation is intimated to the traveller less than 24 hours prior to departure. If cancellation is informed before 24 hours but within a fortnight, the passenger should be offered either a refund or an alternative flight. The charter also says airports have to offer half an hour of free Wi-Fi to passengers.

Minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha, who briefed reporters on the new passenger charter, said the idea is to offer a safe, seamless, convenient and delightful experience to consumers. “Cancellation charge has been a significant pain point for passengers," Sinha said, explaining the rationale for the proposal. The charter also proposes that passengers should be financially compensated for missing connecting flights and if the aircraft is stationed in the tarmac for more than an hour, they should be properly taken care of.

“The draft charter is a strong manifestation of the government’s thinking on resetting passenger protection measures. But implementation is key. Educating passengers about their rights must be accompanied by an oversight regime which ensures that airlines comply," said Kapil Kaul, chief executive, India and Middle East, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

The move fits into the government’s overall efforts to make air travel more affordable and accessible and to achieve the scale of one billion passengers a year in 15-20 years, nearly four times the 265 million recorded in 2016-17.

The free cancellation or re-scheduling facility, however, is available only on domestic trips and will not be available in the last 96 hours of departure as airlines will find it difficult to fill the vacant seats and could suffer revenue loss. Also, the charter proposes that the cancellation fee, where applicable, cannot exceed the basic fare plus fuel surcharge. The proposals may undergo some modification during the public consultation.

The loss of revenue from cancellation charges is not likely to please carriers, especially when rising jet fuel prices are adding to operational costs. Jet Airways did not comment on the eve of its board meeting on Wednesday to consider its quarterly earnings. The country’s largest airline IndiGo, run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, declined to comment. Spicejet Ltd also declined to comment immediately.

Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), the apex industry body for the aviation sector, said it had no comments to offer immediately.

Sinha also said all regulatory clearances have been obtained for allowing both domestic and international airlines to offer on-board internet and mobile services. Interested airlines can now apply for licences and regulatory clearances, said a ministry statement.

As part of the plan to boost airport capacity and digitize all airport procedures, passengers will be allowed to secure a digital identification which will facilitate hassle-free ‘e-entry’ at airport gates. For this, passengers have to use their Aadhaar to establish their identity once. This optional facility will help airports manage customers better and increase productivity without spending extra on infrastructure.

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