Mumbai/New Delhi: Passengers booked to fly on Jet Airways (India) Ltd have been hit by a double whammy after the airline temporarily suspended operations on Wednesday night. Their travel plans are in a mess and no one knows if and when they will be refunded.
The woes of passengers were compounded as International Air Transport Association (IATA) suspended Jet’s membership of its payments gateway on Thursday, potentially affecting the process of refunds.
The complaints are piling up thick and fast.
Ruhul Laskar had booked tickets for his parents on a Jet Airways flight from Guwahati to Mumbai in May. He was informed about grounding of all flights by Jet Airways by mail on Thursday and told he would get only a partial refund.
“Flying options from Guwahati to Mumbai are very limited especially for senior citizens who can’t take multiple stops. Now ticket fares have skyrocketed and we can’t even raise a dispute with the credit card company to cancel the transaction," Laskar said.
After Wednesday’s grounding, online travel portal MakeMyTrip Ltd told Jet Airways passengers: “We will process the refund as soon as we receive it." However, it added: “We are unable to commit any timeline at the moment…"
A senior executive at travel portal Ixigo said the agency hasn’t been updated yet on Jet Airways refunds. “At present, we don’t know when these passengers are going to get their refunds," said the person on condition of anonymity.
Jet Airways is a member of IATA and used the international airline lobby’s billing and settlement process gateway, or BSP, for airline tickets booked through travel agents, both online and offline. Agents make a single payment to the BSP, covering sales on all IATA Airlines. The BSP, in turn, makes one consolidated payment to each airline.
On Thursday, IATA suspended Jet Airways’s membership to its clearing house system. “Consequently, claims by and against the above mentioned airline will not be processed by the clearing house with effect from and including Period 02 of the April 2019 clearance month," it said.
According to a Mumbai-based travel agent, there are two categories of refunds in the case of Jet Airways passengers—refunds due before and after Jet Airways’ membership was suspended by IATA. “There’s a different process for both situations. For those seeking refunds after Jet was suspended from accessing IATA’s clearing house system, we are waiting for IATA to come out with a notification," said the agent.
“IATA typically has a weekly settlement system in place with travel agents," the person said, adding that he expects updates from IATA on refunds by the middle of next week.
Passengers who booked tickets on the airline’s website will need to fill a form and seek refunds at its ticketing offices, Jet Airways said on its website, but gave no timeline for the refund. The airline suggested that those who booked tickets through travel agents should contact the agents for refunds.
“Though a large chunk of air tickets are done through travel agencies, at least 15-20% of passengers book directly from airline websites as they get extra air miles or offers," said Sunil Kumar R., president and chief executive, Travel World, a travel agency, and the president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI).
TAAI has taken up the matter of refund with both Jet Airways and IATA, Kumar said.
Foreign tourists also complained of being left to fend for themselves.
Selena Lester from the London suburb of Bushey flew to India in the first week of April for a holiday. Lester and her family of three were scheduled to return to London on 21 April, but now find themselves stranded in Goa.
“Our Jet Airways flight has been cancelled and we’ve been promised a refund but have no idea when it would get credited. I’ve been trawling the internet since Thursday but there are hardly any flights," said Lester on Friday.
The family spent £216 ( ₹19,475) for a ticket when they booked them in May last year. Lester will now have to shell out nearly 15 times as much as fares have shot up to £3,000 ( ₹270,477).
“Our insurer will only refund £700 ( ₹63,111) each. So it’s a huge loss for us. Air India tweeted saying they want to help the people who are stuck, but when you approach them, there’s no response. I checked online, all their flights are booked for the next nine days. Our holiday has turned into a nightmare," she said.
The grounding of flights has hit budget travellers the hardest. Not only is there no clarity on when the refund would be processed, but there is also a sudden spike in fares.
“The 15-day advance fares have gone up by 5-10% compared to last year’s levels. The three-day advance fares have shot up by 25-30% because of shrinking capacity after Jet’s grounding as well as peak summer vacation demand," said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer, Yatra.com.
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