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Rights in transit

Sushmita Choudhury     July 11, 2008

On 5 May 2007, a Kenya Airways flight carrying 105 passengers, including 15 Indian nationals, took off from Cameroon for Nairobi, Kenya. But within minutes of take-off, the plane crashed and there were no survivors. As if this shock was not bad enough, the relatives of the deceased Indians suffered an unlikely discrimination— they got a compensation which was a seventh of what their Kenyan, American and Chinese counterparts received.

The guilty party was the Indian government, bound as it was by archaic aviation laws. While Kenya, China and the US were signatories to the Montreal Convention (1999), India was diligently following the Warsaw Convention of 1929.

The Montreal Convention is a pro-passenger list of rights that sets higher limits of liability for international carriage of persons, luggage or goods by airlines. The Warsaw Convention, on the other hand, became a law during the infancy of inter-continental aviation with the main objective of ensuring that the liability of air carriers did not hinder the growth of the fledgling industry. But while the rest of the world moved on to protect consumer interests, India continued to wear blinkers. However, with the Lok Sabha recently ratifying the Montreal Convention—India joins 86 countries— there is a lot of good news for those travelling abroad.

Hot deals

Camp Ghangharia
Camp Ghangharia
Cost Rs 2,250 per head

For those who want to combine pilgrimage with fun, Ghangharia is an ideal destination.The Sarovar Group’s luxury tented camp is offering a two-day package that includes breakfast, temple visit, halfday sightseeing, 20% discount at the restaurant and all applicable taxes. Offer valid till end-October.

Metropolitan Hotel
Metropolitan Hotel
Rs 29, 999 for two
Contact 011-42500200

Thinking of taking a quick break in Delhi? Try the hotel’s Summer Sightseeing package for two nights. The offer, valid till September, includes airport transfers, a full-day tour of the city in a luxury car, a relaxing spa treatment and complimentary happy hours at the lounge.

Liability for death
The compensation for injury or death on board, including during embarkation or disembarkation, is now 1,00,000 special drawing rights (SDRs). SDR is the currency used by the International Monetary Fund. This translates to $140,000 (Rs 59 lakh) per person, up from $20,000 (Rs 8.5 lakh) now. Unfortunately, domestic flights are not covered by the amendment, and the compensation is still Rs 7.5 lakh for adults.

Delay in luggage arrival
If the baggage you have checked in or the cargo does not reach you even 21 days after the due date, you can write to the airline, claiming damages subject to a limit of 1,000 SDRs or $1,400 (Rs 59,000) per passenger. This is also the compensation ceiling for lost or damaged checked-in baggage, up from a maximum of Rs 800 per kg till now. However, all written claims have to be filed within seven days of receiving the damaged luggage.

Delayed flights
So far, the only liability of the airlines for delayed flights was to provide refreshments and, in rare cases, accommodation. But now you have the right to demand a refund of the cost of the ticket for delays of over five hours. According to the Montreal Convention, flight delays are subject to a liability of up to 4,150 SDRs or $6,772 (around Rs 2.8 lakh) per passenger. But few, if any, airlines are likely to adhere to it, so don’t get your hopes up. The refund offer too won’t work if the flight is delayed due to political instability, weather, security or unexpected flight risks and strikes. Also, you can’t claim compensation if you are accommodated in another flight that gets you to your destination within a two-hour window.

Filing a claim
The major advantage of the new Convention is the ease with which one can file claims. The Warsaw system allowed four jurisdictions— place of issue of ticket, principal place of business of the air carrier, place of destination of the passenger or the place of domicile of the carrier. According to the new Convention, a fifth jurisdiction has been added, which is the place of domicile of the passenger, provided the airline has a presence there. So you will now be able to file claim in India even if the journey was undertaken abroad.

The first thing to do is to report your bag as missing or damaged at the airline’s baggage office. Your complaint is incomplete without a written claim sent to the customer service department of the airline concerned. It should list out the damaged or lost items along with anything you had to purchase as a replacement and their corresponding values.

The icing on the cake? These new compensation norms are not dependent on the class of travel. Aviation Minister Praful Patel has also promised to review the liability limits for domestic flights in the near future. Here’s to newfound equality.

Uncommon places,the affordableway

The destination: Sigiriya, Sri Lanka (169 km from Colombo)

Why go there: In the beginning it was a volcano—the 600-ft granite monolith that is a Unesco heritage site today is a hardened magma plug. Then it became a rock-shelter mountain monastery in about the 3rd century BC. At the height of its glory, in 5th century AD, it was a royal citadel for 18 years and later a monastery again.

What to do: Be prepared for a lot of walking and steep climbing to discover the ruins of the palace, the monastery and the frescos.

Don’t miss: Once at the summit, check out the symmetry of the gardens, the earliest known formal gardens to have survived in Asia.

Where to stay: Hotel Sigiriya, located at a walking distance from the rock.

Damage to wallet: You can get an AC double room for under Rs 3,400 a night, with all meals. This makes Sigiriya one of the cheapest tourist hot-spots in Sri Lanka.


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