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Flight cancelled or delayed? Know your rights as a passenger

Flight cancelled or delayed? Know your rights as a passenger
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By Kiran Khatri  Apr 26, 2023 7:48:41 AM IST (Published)

Passengers can assert their rights as per the Passenger Charter issued by the Aviation Ministry and demand for alternatives or compensation in case of delay or cancellation of flights.

Imagine you are in Thailand and your flight back to Pune via Bengaluru gets cancelled two days before the scheduled time. Or your flight gets rescheduled five times on a day when you have to rush home for a family emergency.

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Well, this is something that happens from time to time and passengers are left in the lurch, fuming and helpless at the last-minute change. In fact, this happened to many GoFirst passengers in recent weeks.
So what can a passenger do in such case of flight delays and cancellations? Passengers can assert their rights as per the Passenger Charter issued by the Aviation Ministry and demand for alternatives or compensation.
What happens in the case of flight delays?
As per the Passenger Charter, customers are entitled to refreshments if a flight that has a block time of 2.5 hours is delayed for 2 hours. If a flight's block time is between 2.5-5 hours, a customer would be entitled to refreshments if the delay is 3 hours. In case the flight doesn't fall into these two categories, a customer would be entitled to refreshments only if the delay is over four hours. Block time is the total time a flight takes from pushing back from the departure gate to arriving at the destination gate.
Dhairyashil Vandekar, an aviation analyst, tells CNBC-TV18 that this means a passenger won’t be eligible for refreshments if the flight is delayed by 1 hour and 50 minutes. “The provision for a 2-hour delay should be reduced to 90 minutes, while 3 hours and 4 hours should be reduced to at least 90 minutes to 2 hours, to be fair to the passengers,” he demanded.
What if a flight is delayed by more than 6 hours?
In case of delays of more than six hours, the Passenger Charter says the airline has to communicate the rescheduled time to the passenger more than 24 hours prior to the original time. The airline also has to offer an alternative flight option within a 6-hour period or a full refund. It’s the passenger’s right to receive free hotel accommodation if the delay is more than 24 hours or over 6 hours for flights scheduled between 8 pm and 3 am.
Vandekar, however, says that the refund won’t do any good. “If I have a wedding or some important event to attend during the peak travel season and if I have to buy last minute tickets for another flight that’s departing around the same time, the fares would be far more than the refund that I am getting. Where is the protection during such situations?” he asks.
He points to other situations. “What happens if the passenger checked in for an early morning flight but the flight takes off only at 3:30 pm? Expectant mothers, senior citizens and ailing persons can’t be expected to wait at the airport for 6 hours.”
To tackle this, Vandekar recommends a strict provision for airlines to provide a short layover for passengers in a hotel or lounge or any facility where passengers can rest.
What if a flight is cancelled?
The Aviation Ministry’s charter states that the airline must offer an alternate flight or refund the ticket, if the passenger is informed of the cancellation less than two weeks or up to 24 hours before the scheduled time.
If the airline fails to inform the passenger during that period, it will either arrange for an alternate flight or give a compensation of Rs 5,000 or one-way basic fare plus airline fuel charge, whichever is less, for flights that have a block time of 1 hour or less. The compensation goes up based on the flight’s block time. This rule also applies when a passenger misses the connecting flight booked on the same ticket number due to the cancellation.
However, the charter doesn’t cover passengers who may miss an onward train journey, because of the cancellation, highlights Dhairyashil Vandekar.
Vandekar suggests transferring of passengers between airlines. “Suppose airline A cancels the flight and there are some vacant seats in airlines B and C. These seats can be made use of by airline A by involuntarily transferring passengers to the other airline. For this, airlines need to have an interline agreement with each other. The Ministry can bring all the airlines on one platform,” he said.
Vandekar believes this will ensure the passenger makes it for their onward flight or train and it will also benefit airline B and C because their empty seats will get filled.
What if a passenger is denied boarding due to overbooking?
As per the norms, the airline has to arrange for an alternate flight that departs within one hour of the original scheduled departure time. If the airline arranges for a flight that departs within 24 hours, the passenger is entitled to a compensation of 200% of the booked one-way fare and airline fuel charge, subject to maximum of Rs 10,000.
If the passenger doesn’t opt for an alternate flight, they will get a full refund and compensation of 400% of the booked one-way fare and airline fuel charge. This is subject to maximum of Rs 20,000.
Vandekar says that even though the Aviation Ministry allows airlines to overbook by a certain percentage, the denied boarding may come as a shock to passengers who think they have confirmed tickets.
“The existing compensation that is being awarded in case of denied boarding should be doubled as it would make the airlines handle their inventories more carefully and they will overbook only under extreme compulsion,” he suggests.
What if the airline does not follow the Passenger Charter?
While there is no specified penalty levied on the airline for not following the charter, a passenger can write to the DGCA or Aviation Ministry or complain on the AirSewa app. The airline is supposed to have a grievance redressal mechanism and a nodal officer who looks into the passenger's grievances, says Vandekar.
He adds that airlines also have to provide monthly data on the occurrences of delays, cancellations and compensation paid by them to the passengers. DGCA data shows that more than 1.5 lakh passengers were impacted by flight delays and cancellations in March. As per the report, airlines spent nearly Rs 2.6 crore on compensation and facilities.
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