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Know your rights in case an airline cancels your flight without force majeure in play. istockphoto
Know your rights in case an airline cancels your flight without force majeure in play. istockphoto

It pays to know what you can do when an airline cancels or delays your flight

Airlines will usually try and save cost by offering to re-book you on their own flights

In 2018, passengers flew a whopping 13.9 crore times around India domestically, growing 18.6% over the number of trips from 2017. And along with the explosive growth, the number of passengers unable to make it to their destination on time has grown as well. In 2017, 168,094 people had their flights cancelled while in 2018, that number grew to 307,872 passengers as per Directorate General of Commercial Aviation (DGCA) data, with 57% of cancelled passenger seats on IndiGo alone. That is plain bad news.

However, the airlines were not able to wash off their hands and point a finger elsewhere for this mess. In 2018, airlines spent over 5.81 crore towards compensation and providing refreshments for the passengers.

If your flight is cancelled or delayed, you have every right to be frustrated. However there are rules and policies in place so that a customer is not at the receiving end both mentally and monetarily. DGCA has guidelines to protect your rights under the civil aviation requirements section 3 series M part IV. Given that IndiGo has already stated that they plan to cancel up to 2% of their domestic flights through March 2019, knowing your rights now, should keep you in good stead.

If you have a flight cancelled over two weeks before the departure date and the reason of the cancellation happens to be in the airline’s control (no natural disaster, weather disruption), the airline needs to contact you and re-book on an alternate flight. You can also ask for your money back. If you get a flight cancellation within two weeks and up to 24 hours before travel, the rules gets even more pro-customer. You should be given a flight that departs within two hours of your original scheduled departure time.

Airlines will usually try and save cost by offering to rebook you on their own flights, but that does not have to be the case. They can buy tickets from another airline. The airline will usually never bring it up, so you should bring it up if it works better for you. But for all of this to work, the airline needs to be able to contact you, so always ensure your phone number and email address is on every ticket booked for you, else your rights are waived off in favour of the airline. Again, if a cancellation happens due to any reason in the airline’s control within the last 24 hours and you have not been adequately informed, the airline needs to get you on your way on their flights or that of another airline without any more money paid by you. Besides this, they are obligated to take care of you at the airport with refreshments, etc. And if you don’t elect to travel with the new choice, you are due for compensation from the airline. Besides a full refund, per passenger, you are entitled to a compensation, which depends on the length of your flight. It is the lower amount between the one-way fare, ex-taxes and 5000- 10,000 depending on the length of your flight. But this compensation is only due when the blame lies at the airline’s door. When these cancellations happen due to force majeure (unforseen circumstances), they are not liable to pay. Incessant rains, floods and riots are some of the reasons for cancellations.

In case an airline does not cancel your flight, but just delays it for whatever reason after you arrive at the airport, you aren’t eligible for compensation, but you are eligible to a care package. For flights up to two and half hours long, if the delay is two hours from original scheduled time, passengers get complimentary meals. If the delay of the flight is over 24 hours from the original scheduled time, you are eligible to get a hotel room and a transfer to and from the hotel.

Given these are expensive measures and you will be hearing a lot more about cancellations in the days ahead, many airlines, especially the low-cost ones, would usually want to hide behind some nuance to try and do the right thing for their balance sheet, not the customer. If you take a bit more interest and do your homework right, you can push for the airline to do the right thing for you. Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller. Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.

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