The Supreme Court Monday sought responses from the Centre and DGCA on a plea seeking directions to airlines operating domestic and international fights in India to refund full amount collected for tickets due to cancellation of flights in wake of the lockdown and restrictions imposed to contain COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana, S K Kaul and B R Gavai, which heard the matter through video-conferencing, issued notices to the Centre and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on the plea which has urged the court to declare the alleged action of airlines of not refunding entire value of cancelled air tickets as violative of the civil aviation requirement issued by the authority.
"It is submitted that the airlines instead of providing the full refund of the amount collected for the tickets due to cancellation, are providing a credit shell, valid upto one year, which is clear in violation of the Civil Aviation Requirement of May 2008 issued by the DGCA which clearly states that 'the option of holding the refund amount in credit shell by the airlines shall be the prerogative of the passenger and not a default practice of the airline," said the plea, filed by the NGO, 'Pravasi Legal Cell'.
Referring to the earlier prevalent practice, it has said in case of credit card payments, refund shall be made by the airlines within seven days of the cancellation to account of the credit-card holder and in case of a cash transaction, the refund shall be "made immediately" by the airline office from where the ticket was purchased.
The Civil Aviation Requirement of May 2008 sets a limit of 30 working days for airlines to complete the refund process for tickets booked through travel agents/portals, the plea has said. The plea has referred to the April 16 office memorandum of the Ministry of Civil Aviation which deals with refund of ticket amount collected without levy of cancellation charge.
It has claimed that the April 16 office memorandum directing airlines to provide full refund of amount paid to only those people who booked tickets during the lockdown period and "leaving out people who booked tickets prior to lockdown but the flights cancelled due to lockdown amounts to treating equals unequally and thus the same is in clear violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution."
"It is clear from the Office Memorandum that directs the airlines to refund only those tickets that were booked during the lockdown period, leaves out the vast majority of passengers who had booked tickets before the flights were banned.
Which indirectly approves to the practice of the Airlines providing Credit Shell for booking effected before the lockdown, though the same clearly violates the refund rules of the DGCA," the plea has alleged.
There was no question of anyone booking a ticket during the lockdown knowing that schedule passenger flights were cancelled for period of travel and this made Office Memorandum of the Ministry of Civil Aviation "ambiguous and devoid of any logic", the plea has claimed.