More than a day after India’s first private airline Jet Airways Ltd announced that it would temporarily cease operations amid a fund crunch, passengers across the globe have been left in the lurch. Selena Lester, 53, a resident of Bushey in England 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 are currently stranded in Goa. “Our JetAirways 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 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 fully booked for the next nine days. Our holiday has turned into a nightmare," added Lester.
The sudden grounding of Jet Airways has hit budget travellers the most because there is no clarity on when the refund would be processed and there is also a spike in air fares. “The 15-day advance fares have gone up by 5-10% compared to levels last year. The three-day advance fare levels have shot up by 25-30% due to the shrinking capacity on account of Jet Airways grounding as well as peak summer vacation demand," said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer, Yatra.com, an online travel aggregator.
Chennai-based Nrutya Subramanyam, 45, paid more than twice the fare for a Chennai-Bengaluru flight for her son, Pranav Arvind, who was going for an adventure trip to Mangaluru.Arvind, who just finished his class X, was keen to go on the trip and cancelling it was out of the question. “I got a message from my web aggregator on 17 April to check. I cancelled the flight and got a refund in two days but had to book a much more expensive ticket. I had paid less than ₹1,500 for the Jet flight and now had to shell out ₹4,600," said Subramanyam. While Subramanyam got her money back for the Chennai-Bengaluru flight, she lost a huge chunk of money on the return journey. “We got a message earlier saying that the flight was rescheduled, which didn’t suit my son. So I cancelled the flight and re-booked at a much higher fare. Of course I got very little refund for cancelling the Jet flight," she added.
Where are the refunds?
While some passengers sensed that the problem was going to get bigger even before the Jet Airways grounding announcement came, others who were hoping that things would settle down didn’t cancel their bookings in time. But to their disappointment, the airline started rescheduling and eventually cancelling tickets. Unlike Subramanyam, who got her refund in a couple of days, these passengers are still waiting for their money to come back. Ravi Rajgopalan, 57, has been a Jet platinum member for more than a decade now and hoped that somehow the airline would pull through. So he booked round-trip tickets to London from Mumbai for a trip scheduled in the last week of March. “Later, I felt that my flight would get cancelled because of what was going on, so I called Jet and asked them to cancel my tickets. I received an email saying I’ll get a refund. It was a business class fare worth ₹2.6 lakh. I haven’t got the refund yet," said Rajgopalan.
Though Jet Airways has said it would refund the full amount, there is no clarity on how long that could take. There’s also confusion between the airline and travel portals and agents on the refunds. Aditya Ravi, 29, booked three tickets in January from Mumbai to Coimbatore for a holiday in the third week of March. Two weeks prior to departure, Ravi was informed that his flight was cancelled. “I booked the tickets through an online aggregator and once the flight got cancelled we were informed that we would get a refund. But it now looks like a war between the aggregator and Jet," said Ravi. Jet Airways informed Ravi that they’ve refunded the complete amount but the aggregator said theyhaven’t received any money from the airline. “The aggregator said once they’d get the money from Jet, it would take another 20 working days for them to process the refund," added Ravi. The tickets cost Ravi about ₹7,300 which is stuck either with the airline or the aggregator. He had to shell out ₹4,000 more for booking fresh tickets to go on the holiday.
From what it looks like, not only the employees of the company, but also passengers across the globe are dealing with the airline’s sudden grounding, with confusion and panic only increasing.
According to Shyam Sekhar, chief ideator and founder, iThought, a Chennai-based financial planner, passengers now need to be practical and do a cost benefit analysis. “I think passengers who are most impacted are the ones who are supposed to travel in the immediate future. Things will settle down in a couple of weeks," he said. “Ideally if the alternative air tickets are waytoo expensive, then they should try to defer their holiday. Most hotels would agree to it with a small fee and it may be worth it. Else, you will have to absorb the losses and re-book," he added.