The Supreme Court on Friday reserved its order on a batch of petitions seeking refund of air fare for tickets booked in advance for travel during the lockdown period – March 25 to May 25 -- even as the Centre said passengers will get refund or transferable credit vouchers for use in air travel any time.By the credit voucher, the air traveller can buy a ticket for another day or transfer it to someone else, including a travel agent from whom he had bought the ticket, or take a refund at a later stage.The airlines have been given a deadline of March 31, 2021, to refund the tickets.Appearing for the Civil Aviation Ministry and Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that as far as airlines are concerned, they recognize the passenger figuring on their manifest list and no travel agent. “We do not know them, we don’t recognize them”, Mehta told the court.
Having said that passengers were entitled to refund of their cancelled tickets for the lockdown period, Solicitor General told the bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice M.R.Shah that directing the airlines to give refunds will adversely impact them and that is not a desirable outcome – an indication that it is unlikely that there would be refund of the air-tickets in near future.
The Solicitor General said the government has not accepted the suggestion by travel agent associations to process the refunds and credit vouchers through the travel agents if the tickets were booked through them.Senior Counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for Indigo Airlines seeking more time to make refunds, said their working capital is frozen, input costs including fuel prices have gone up and to top it all the government has imposed a cap on the price of the tickets.
He said that they were also paying their staff.He sought time preferably till March 31, 2022, or at least six more months to refund the tickets.In an earlier hearing, the Civil Aviation Ministry and DGCA had submitted a proposal saying passengers will be eligible for full refund for the tickets, and if the airlines are unable to pay immediately the ticket price amount will be kept in a credit shell where 0.5% monthly interest will accrue till it is used.
However, this was resisted by Tata group’s Vistara and Air Asia which had described levying 0.5% interest as a penal interest.The domestic operations of airlines were put under suspension for two months starting with March 25 to May 25, 2020. The court was informed today by the airlines that they were operating at 60% of their capacity which is likely to improve further to 80% in coming months.