Over the last few days, social media has been abuzz with videos of passengers shouting at the ground staff at a few airports in the country. From shortage of planes to weather and shortage of crew – the reasons for delays are innumerable and at most times not honestly shared with the passengers which leads to a messier problem to solve at the airport.
In November, 2.69 lakh passengers were compensated by airlines for delays, nearly 40 thousand passengers were compensated for cancellations and 1231 were compensated for denied boarding.
The regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has a specific CAR (Civil Aviation Regulation) to deal with cases of delayed flights, cancelled flights and overbooking. The obligation of compliance rests with the airline which performs or intends to operate the flight, including by wet-leased aircraft.
If the airline books more passengers on a flight than its capacity, the airline has to first ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for any benefits at the airline’s discretion. However, if boarding is denied against the will of the passenger then the airline has to arrange an alternate flight within one hour of the original scheduled departure and failing so, the airline has to compensate the passenger with an amount equal to 200% of booked one-way fare plus airline fuel charge which remains capped at INR 10,000 if the airline has arranged for a flight within 24 hours.
The penalty increases to 400% of booked one-way fare plus airline fuel charge and remains capped at INR 20,000 if the alternate flight on offer is more than 24 hours after original departure time. In case the passenger does not opt for alternate flight, the airline has to refund the full value of ticket and compensation equal to 400% of booked one-way basic fare plus airline carge, subject to maximum of INR 20,000. If this happens on a connecting flight, the compensation is restricted to the first flight for the flight leg.
The regulator expects the airline to inform the passenger of the cancellation at least two weeks before the date of travel and arrange an alternate flight or refund the passenger. If the airline announces cancellation between two weeks and up to 24 hours before the scheduled time of departure, the airline is bound to offer an alternate flight or refund the ticket. This is easier said than done from a passenger perspective since the last-minute fares are extremely high and make travel difficult for the booked passenger.
If the passengers are not informed or they miss the connecting flight on same ticket number, the airline has to provide an alternate flight or compensation which includes a full refund and INR 5000 or booked one-way basic fare whichever is less for flights having block time up to one hour, INR 7500 or booked one-way basic fare whichever is less for flights between one to two hours and INR 10,000 or booked one-way basic fare, whichever is less for flights above two hours.
Airlines have to provide meals and refreshments and hotel accommodation including transfers as needed.
The most common of all are flight delays and the regular expects airline to offer refreshments or meals for flights which are delayed beyond two hours for flights having a block time of up to two and half hours; delays beyond three hours for flights having blocktime between two and half hours and five hours and for delays beyond four hours for other flights.
If the delay is more than 24 hours or more than six hours for flights departing between 2000 hrs and 0300 hours, the passengers should be provided with accommodation.
While the regulator has tried its best to accommodate multiple possible considerations in the CAR (Civil Aviation Regulation), there remain loopholes which can be exploited by the airline in absence of transparency.
Airlines are exempted from paying any compensation when the delay is due to Air Traffic Control, security, natural disasters, political issues, etc. While some can be well-defined, parameters like Air Traffic Control cannot be well-defined. Additionally, when the airline plans a transfer of crew from one aircraft to another – the delay in a flight due to connecting crew is a classic example of delay due to Air Traffic Control
There also remains an issue where airlines do not delay the flights by a longer duration upfront and instead delay the flights by a few hours at a time. It is equally true that airlines do not like delaying flights but the evidence on ground has been clear that airlines have remained unrealistic in most cases when it comes to informing about delays.