Return passengers to lounge if take-off delayed: Apex court

Passengers of any aircraft that does not take off and remains parked on the tarmac for more than three hours after boarding is closed but, should be permitted to go back to the airport lounge, the Supreme Court has said.

The apex court bench of Justice R.V.Raveendran and Justice A.K.Patnaik asked the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to specify in its guidelines that Air Traffic Control (ATC) should ensure that no aircraft remains on tarmac for more than three hours after the boarding is closed.

In the situation where an aircraft had to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours after boarding was closed, the passengers should be permitted to return to the airport lounge till the aircraft was ready to take off, the judges said in the ruling delivered Monday but only made available on Friday.

“If for any unforeseen reason, the passengers are required to be on board for a period beyond three hours or more, without the flight taking off, appropriate provision for food and water should be made, apart from providing access to the toilets,” said Justice Raveendran, speaking for the bench.

The court’s order came on an appeal of InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, which operates IndiGo Airlines, challenging the Dec 31, 2009, judgment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court .

The high court had upheld the decision of the Hyderabad-based Permanent Lok Adalat for Public Utility Services awarding Rs.10,000 as compensation and Rs.2,000 as costs to N.Satchidanand, a passenger on an IndiGo flight which was delayed and ultimately cancelled.

Satchidanand, along with eight other passengers, boarded the Indigo flight No.6E-301 from Delhi to Hyderabad at 5.45 a.m. Dec 14, 2007. The flight was to depart at 6.15 a.m. but was delayed till 11.15 a.m. when an announcement was made cancelling it on account of poor visibility because of dense fog at Delhi.

The passengers, who were in their seats for hours, were later provided sandwiches on payment of Rs.100.The apex court judgment said if the delay was due to reasons beyond the control of the airline and its crew had acted reasonably and in a bona fide manner, the air carrier could not be made liable to pay damages even if there has been some inconvenience or hardship to a passenger on account of the delay.

Noting there can be no doubt that the respondent (Satchidanand), like any other passenger forced to sit in a narrow seat for hours, underwent considerable physical hardship and agony on account of the delay, the judgment said it was not as a consequence of any deficiency in service, negligence or want of facilitation by the appellant (IndiGo Airlines).

If a flight had remained on tarmac without taking off, for many hours, after boarding was completed, and passengers were not permitted to get back to the airport lounge, then the airport and ATC should bear the blame, the court added.

“Congestion in the airport on account of the delayed and cancelled flights cannot be a ground to prevent the passengers on board from returning to the airport lounge when there is a delay,” the judgment said.

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