Consumers can approach civil and consumer courts too for compensation in case denied boarding: DGCA

The Delhi High Court has confirmed that the Civil Aviation Rules provide an immediate relief as compensation to passengers who are denied boarding. This does not mean that there is a cap on compensation payable and passenger can sue for deficiency in service as well. In its order dated 02.02.2018, the High Court of Delhi clarified the compensation and refund procedure in case the passenger is denied boarding even after confirmed ticket. It also said that airlines must pay for denying seats to those with confirmed tickets.

In 2015, the petitioner had booked his tickets to travel from Delhi to Patna on 12.12.2015 and was due to return on 13.12.2015. He accordingly booked tickets with Air India well in advance on 28.10.2015. The petitioner averred that he reached the airport on time on 12.12.2015 but was denied boarding by Air India on account of overbooking of flights.

The petitioner stated that paragraph 3.2 of Civil Aviation Requirement (herein referred to as CAR) dated 06.08.2010 permitted overbooking of flight, which according to the petitioner cannot be permitted. Paragraph 3.2 provides for airlines to ask for volunteers to give up their seats so as to make seats available for other booked passengers to travel on the flight, in exchange of such benefits/facilities as the airlines, at its own discretion, may wish to offer, provided airports concerned have dedicated check-in facilities/gate areas that make it practical for the airlines to do so. If the boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the airlines shall as soon as practicable compensate them in addition to refund of air ticket. Under the provisions of the CAR, airlines shall be liable to pay compensation to passengers who are denied boarding. However, in order to minimise No Shows, the airlines are allowed to levy appropriate No Show penalties in relation to the fare to be deducted from the fare paid by the passenger.

A plain reading of paragraph 3.2 of CAR indicates that the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has recognised that certain airlines follow the practice of overbooking flights; however, the same cannot be read to mean that the DGCA has permitted the airlines to do so, and it certainly cannot mean that such practice has the sanction of law as stated by the counsel appearing for DGCA.

The petitioner also contended that the compensation payable to the passengers, who were denied boarding despite holding confirmed bookings, had been restricted by the CAR. He further contended that the DGCA had no power to issue directions restricting the compensation payable to such passengers. He further submitted that the amount of compensation mentioned in CAR indicated only the immediate relief that the airlines were required to provide to the passengers who had been denied boarding. The counsel of Air India also submitted that not permitting the passenger holding confirmed tickets to board a flight would amount to deficiency in service and passenger would have the right to seek compensation/ damages for such deficiency of service.

Thus, DGCA and national carrier Air India told the Delhi High Court that a passenger had the right to seek compensation in case of denial to fly due to overbooking, over and above its rules that provided slab-wise refund. It was added by DGCA that its 2010 rules did not put a cap on the compensation that could be demanded from the airlines in cases of overbooking and a passenger had full right to approach civil and consumer courts for relief.

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