In the case of Pravasi Legal Cell & Ors. Vs Union of India & Ors. [DIARY NO.10966/2020], Supreme Court directed all the airlines to refund the whole ticket amount to the passengers.
Various petitions have been filed in the nature of public interest litigation under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, seeking directions to various airlines operating both – domestic and international flights – to refund the ticket amounts collected from the passengers of the flights which are cancelled on account of lockdown, with a consequential direction to the respondents to refund the same without levying any charges on account of cancellation etc. Hence, a consolidated hearing was done to dispose the matter.
In the view of lockdown, a ban on operation of all domestic and international flights was imposed. The Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an advisory stating that the Airline shall refund the full amount collected without levy of cancellation charge. In the same memorandum, Government had issued directions to Directorate General of Civil Aviation to monitor the compliance of such advisories.
The contention of the petitioner’s is that although it is obligatory on the part of the respondent-airlines, operating domestic as well as international flights, to refund the full amount collected for the tickets which are not utilised in view of the cancellation of flights in the wake of restrictions imposed by Government of India to contain COVID19, respondents are providing a credit shell with the validity of one year, which is contrary to Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) of May 2008.
The respondent- airlines submitted that if any enforcement action is initiated by the DGCA for violations of CARs mentioned above, same may result in reduction/suspension of approved schedule of airline, who have already started operating their flights with limited capacity. It was submitted that any such strict enforcement action against airline would further restrict/reduce their operation and any such strict enforcement action may further jeopardise the possibility of generation of cash by the airline which can further adversely affect/delay the refund cycle. Keeping a considerate view towards both the passenger and the airline, Supreme Court gave the following directions –
1. If a passenger has booked a ticket during the lockdown period (from 25 March, 2020 to 24 May, 2020) for travel during lockdown period and the airline has received payment for booking of air ticket for travel during the same period, for both domestic and international air travel and the refund is sought by the passenger against that booking being cancelled, the airline shall refund the full amount collected without any cancellation charges. The refund shall be made within a period of three weeks from the date of cancellation.
2. If the tickets have been booked during the lockdown period through a travel agent for a travel within the lockdown period, in all such cases full refund shall be given by the airlines immediately. On such refund, the amount shall be passed on immediately by the agent to the passengers.
3. Passengers who booked tickets at any period of time but for travel after 24 May, 2020 – refund of fares to the passengers covered under this category shall be governed by the provisions of Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR).
4. Even for international travel, when the tickets have been booked on an Indian carrier and the booking is exIndia, if the tickets have been booked during the lockdown period for travel within the lockdown period, immediate refund shall be made.
5. If the tickets are booked for international travel on a foreign carrier and the booking is exIndia during the lockdown period for travel within the lockdown period, full refund shall be given by the airlines and said amount shall be passed on immediately by the agent to the passengers, wherever such tickets are booked through agents. In all other cases airline shall refund the collected amount to the passenger within a period of three weeks.
6. In all other cases, the airlines shall make all endeavours to refund the collected amount to the passenger within 15 days from today. If on account of financial distress, any airline / airlines are not able to do so, they shall provide credit shell, equal to the amount of fare collected, in the name of passenger when the booking is done either directly by the passenger or through travel agent so as to consume the same on or before 31st March, 2021. It is open to the passenger either to utilize such credit shell upto 31st March, 2021 on any route of his choice or the passenger can transfer the credit shell to any person including the travel agent through whom he / she has booked the ticket and the airlines shall honour such a transfer.
6.1 The credit shell issued in the name of the passenger shall be transferable which can be utilized upto 31st March, 2021 and the concerned airline shall honour such a transfer by devising a mechanism to facilitate such a transfer. It is also made clear that such credit shell can be utilized by the concerned agent through whom the ticket is booked, for third party use. It is also made clear that even in cases where credit shell is transferred to third party, same is to be utilized only through the agent who has booked the ticket at the first instance.
7. In cases where passengers have purchased the ticket through an agent, and credit shell is issued in the name of passenger, such credit shell is to be utilized only through the agent who has booked the ticket. In cases where tickets are booked through agent, credit shell as issued in the name of the passenger which is not utilized by 31st March, 2021, refund of the fare collected shall be made to the same account from which account amount was received by the airline.
8. In all cases where credit shell is issued there shall be an incentive to compensate the passenger from the date of cancellation up-to 30 June, 2020 in which event the credit shell shall be enhanced by 0.5% of the face value (the amount of fare collected) for every month or part thereof between the date of cancellation and 30th June, 2020. Thereafter the value of the credit shell shall be enhanced by 0.75 of the face- value per month up-to 31 March, 2021.”