The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on Thursday asked airlines to refund fares, within three weeks, to those customers who booked tickets during the initial lockdown and for travel within the period when flights remained suspended, reports fe Bureau in Mumbai. Others whose flights were cancelled during the national lockdown haven’t got any respite.
If a customer seeks refunds for tickets booked during the first lockdown (March 25-April 14) for domestic and international travel between March 25 and May 3, “the airline shall refund the full amount collected without levy of cancellation charge. The refund shall be made within 3 weeks from date of request of cancellation,” MoCA said.
The mandate does not include passengers who have booked tickets before the lockdown started, even if the travel period falls within the lockdown period. There is also no clarity on whether customers who have booked tickets through online travel operators will be eligible for the refunds. “The current directive is to address those customers who are the most affected. We have received complaints from deeply distressed people who were hoping to return home and booked one-way tickets from April 15,” one official said.
So far, most airlines have offered a credit shell for cancelled bookings, which passengers can later redeem against flight tickets, instead of a full refund. The lockdown was initially announced for 21 days and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had issued an order stating that flights would be suspended between March 25 and April 14. Airlines kept forward bookings open from April 15, and a “substantial number of travellers” booked flights expecting operations to resume, MoCA said.
Earlier this week, the government extended the lockdown till May 3. Frustrated customers took to social media demanding refunds for the cancelled bookings. MoCA said it “acknowledges the unusual condition” arising from the extension of the lockdown. The DGCA will monitor the implementation, and take “action if needed,” if airlines fail to comply, a senior official said.
Questions were also raised as to why the government has not intervened to stop private airlines from continuing forward bookings. Domestic airlines continue to offer tickets for travel from May 4. The issue was raised during the meeting between MoCA officials and airline heads.