Vistara would have had to compensate passengers if India had this law

Even if an airlines claim that they will compensate passengers in case of delays, without a passenger charter, there is no legislation to enforce any of the airline commitments. (PTI FILE) (HT_PRINT)
Even if an airlines claim that they will compensate passengers in case of delays, without a passenger charter, there is no legislation to enforce any of the airline commitments. (PTI FILE) (HT_PRINT)

Summary

  • India does not have a legally enforceable passenger rights charter, unlike other countries. If you buy an airline ticket, what that entitles you to isn’t legally binding on airlines

The Directorate of Civil Aviation, DGCA, has asked Vistara to adhere to rules for compensating passengers who couldn’t fly because their flights were cancelled, delayed, rescheduled, or they were denied boarding.

However, most of these passengers may find that the refunds and compensations will barely cover what they paid for the tickets, and may not even compensate them for any inconveniences or losses suffered as a result.

Also Read: Vistara blames rostering for flight disruptions, warns of curtailed ops till May

The reason is that India does not have a legally enforceable passenger rights charter, unlike other countries. If you buy an airline ticket, what that entitles you to isn’t legally binding on airlines and your rights aren’t enforceable. 

Whether you will get compensation for canceled flights, how much, if so, or if the airline will put you in a taxi instead of a flight (as happened recently for passengers booked on a low-cost airline) or what precisely you are buying when paying for an airline ticket isn’t covered by law. 

This is unlike what happens when you buy an equity share on a stock exchange or transfer funds into a fixed deposit account of a bank, when the transaction gives you exactly what you are promised.

Even if the airlines claim that they will compensate passengers in case of delays, without a passenger charter, there is no legislation to enforce any of the airline commitments. As a result, air passenger experience is often underwhelming. 

Every time you buy a ticket, the boarding pass tends to advise arriving at the airport more than two hours before departure time for a hassle-free airport experience, which may not always be the case. Whether it is the winter fog months in Delhi, or the summer congestion in Mumbai, the chaos is unavoidable and doesn’t get passengers any compensation.

Airlines often pass the blame to airports in their communication with passengers, but often it is their own operations that are the real cause for delays and inconvenience. A classic case is you are in the queue but unable to check in, and the airline ground staff would tell you that it is due to the airport network being down – even when the airline network is down. Or if incoming aircraft are delayed, airlines simply say that the flight departure is delayed due to delays in incoming flight without specifying that that particular flight is also operated by them and the cause of the delay is their own operations.

Often airlines will ensure that the first bag out of a flight arrives on the baggage belt super-fast, and the rest follow with lags. While this ensures that they can report timeliness, passengers still have to contend with delays.

If an airline has 150 flights departing from Delhi in the mornings, during winters they should be able to deploy a minimum of 100 pilots trained for using runways in fog and low-visibility conditions. But airlines don’t invest in training and are content to let flights be delayed as they can get away without incurring the costs of compensation to passengers.

When there is no charter, passengers have no recourse but to accept whatever the airline decides to do. A passenger charter confers consumer rights, such as what you are buying when you buy an airline ticket, and what to do if the airline fails to deliver this. 

In most countries, legislation provides passengers with legally enforceable rights that are reviewed routinely by regulators, who also specify the fines and penalties to be imposed for slip-ups on various aviation entities, such as airports, airlines, air traffic navigation, and ground handlers.

There is continuous tracking and monitoring of the conduct of each of these entities in a transparent way so that accountability can be fixed, and passengers can be assured of air travel service quality standards.

Improving air travel experience goes beyond overcoming logistical hurdles. It's also about showing a commitment to provide dignity and respect to every passenger through legally enforceable rights.

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