Friday, March 24, 2023

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Downgraded involuntarily: DGCA may require airlines to refund entire fare & fly passenger for free in such cases

NEW DELHI: If an airline involuntarily downgrades a passenger who bought a business, first or premium economy ticket, to a lower cabin class at the time of check-in, they could be required to refund the entire premium fare paid and fly the person free of cost. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Friday said it is soon going to issue rules to protect consumer rights in this instance after after holding stakeholder consultation. These upcoming rules will apply to all airlines that operate to and from India, said DGCA chief Arun Kumar.
“In view of rapid expansion of air services within India and on international routes to/from India and with the increase in the volume of passenger traffic, it has been noticed that sometimes airlines downgrade passengers. For example a passenger who has booked his/her ticket on first class, business class or premium economy but is downgraded to a lower class at the time of check-in due to various reasons like unserviceable seats, change of aircraft, or overbooking,” Kumar said.
For such situations, the DGCA is in the process of amending its Civil Aviation Requirement (rules) regarding facilities to be provided to passengers by airlines due to denied boarding, cancellation of flights and delays in flights “to protect the rights of air travellers affected by downgrading of their ticket.”
“The amendment will allow the passenger, who is downgraded involuntarily from booked class of ticket, to receive the full value of ticket including taxes as refund from the airline and the airline will carry the passenger free of cost in the next available class. However, this proposal will go through stakeholder consultation and the final regulation shall be published and made applicable afterwards,” Kumar said.
The DGCA had this June asked a leading full service carrier to avoid selling unserviceable business class seats after finding that a significant number of people who had bought tickets for that cabin were downgraded to economy at the time of check-in. The problem, on this airline, arose due to an old fleet with poorly maintained seats. The regulator had conducted a probe into the issue after receiving complaints from passengers.
“In the recent past, a number of business class passengers were downgraded to economy on account of unserviceable seats. DGCA took note of this and conducted an enquiry. We have warned (the airline) from booking more business class passengers than serviceable seats available. Any violation will invite enforcement action,” DGCA sources had said in June. With the proposed upcoming rules, the DGCA seems to be taking that action promised in June.

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