Coronavirus lockdown: Plea in Supreme Court red flags airlines not issuing refunds despite government order.

Airline passengers facing refund woes owing to travel restrictions and the resultant cancellations may be in for some relief, with a plea in the Supreme Court red-flagging how airlines have not issued full refunds despite clear orders by the government and the regulator.

The plea in SC, filed by Pravasi Legal Cell, seeks the apex court’s intervention in directing the airlines, both domestic and international, to issue a full refund for tickets booked for travel during the lockdown.

The petition submits that the government, through an order on Mar 23, had suspended air travel in the country. A subsequent order, on Mar 27, of the airline regulator – Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGCA) – extended the air travel ban till April 14 – the last date of the first phase of lockdown. In a circular issued on April 14, the air travel ban was extended, by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), till May 3.

The plea points out that after the lockdown extension, on April 16, MoCA issued an “office Memorandum”, directing all airlines to issue a full refund for tickets booked during the first phase of the lockdown. The same order from MoCA also clarified that there can be no levy of the cancellation policy.

The petition claims that despite clear orders, the airlines, instead of issuing refunds, have issued a “Credit Shell” in favour of the passengers. The plea argues that issuance of “Credit Shells” is in violation of the Civil Aviation Requirements of DGCA, which clearly state that holding the refund amount in a “Shell” will not be a default practice, and will be “prerogative of the passenger”.

The plea elaborates that as per DGCA the refund needs to be issued within 7 days if the payment is made via a credit card and the refund needs to be issued “immediately” if the payment was made in cash.

The petition, however, red flags that the April 16 order of MoCA has directed refund only for those who booked their tickets during the period of the lockdown. The petition claims, that this leaves a vast majority of passengers in the dark, who had booked their tickets prior to the travel restrictions having been announced. The plea argues that this order by MoCA is “ambiguous”, “devoid of logic” and violative of the DGCA rules.

The plea is praying for a widening of the MoCA order to allow a full refund to all passengers who booked, at any time, tickets for travel during the lockdown period. The Supreme Court is yet to take up the plea for hearing.

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