Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Shiv Sena Member of the Parliament Anil Desai have urged the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation to enforce consumer protection laws to ensure airline operators refund the ticket fares of flights cancelled during the lockdown within a specific time frame.
In a letter written to Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, Prithviraj Chavan, a veteran Congress leader, argued that not refunding the cost of air tickets for cancelled flights is an ‘abuse of consumer rights’. On the other hand, Anil Desai, in his communication to the civil aviation minister, has urged him to direct the airlines to design satisfactory voluntary voucher schemes for those consumers who are frequent flyers and are not seeking a refund on their cancelled tickets.
Chavan said the unprecedented nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 has brought businesses to a screeching halt. Airlines had to suddenly cancel an estimated 4.5 million flights worldwide. “Indian consumers, who had to cancel their flight tickets after the announcement of the lockdown, are entitled to receive cash refunds. According to the Consumer Protection Act, the contract between the consumers and the airline gives the right to consumers to seek a cash refund. Many airlines, including Air India, are not honouring this contract and compelling the passengers to accept vouchers for future travel without giving any option of cash refund,’’ Chavan said. He further stated that not all consumers, however, are willing to accept a voucher for future travel. In some cases, the airlines are misinforming consumers about their refund policies.
Chavan referred to the representation made by the Mumbai-based consumer rights organisation, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, seeking the intervention of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) by drawing their attention to the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP). “On June 4, 2020, UNCTAD called upon governments of the member states to adequately protect consumers by enforcing consumer protection laws against abusive business practices such as penalties or fees and breach of refund rights,’’ he noted.
Chavan has therefore urged Puri to issue clarification on refund policies and direct the airline operators to prevent abuse of consumer rights and provide a choice of cash refunds with settlement of refunds in a specific time period.
Further, Desai appealed to the minister to direct airlines to process refunds for consumers who are senior citizens or had booked tickets due to an emergency or for some personal/domestic function and do not wish to avail of those voucher schemes. “In line with the directions issued by UNCTAD to member states, I request the ministry to ensure a transparent process for the confirmation, conciliation, return and refund of products and services. It would be incorrect to say that honouring consumers’ rights to refund, which sometimes stems from legislation and sometimes from contract, would make the aviation sector’s situation worse off,’’ Desai noted.
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