The Untited Airlines incident that forcibly dragged a passenger, Dr David Dao, from its aircraft in Chicago has enraged most part of the world. His only fault was refusing the airline’s last minute request to give up his seat to make room for a crew member. The request came after he had buckled himself in United Airlines’ Kentucky-bound flight.
What are your rights in this case?
Unlike the United Airlines case, in India, passengers are denied boarding before they get on the plane.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s aviation regulator states: “Airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a limited extent in order to reduce the possibility of flights departing with unoccupied or empty seats because of ‘No Shows’ by booked passengers i.e. passengers who do not report for travel despite firm bookings before the time limit stipulated by the airline. Under the provisions of this CAR (Civil Aviation Requirements), airlines shall be liable to pay compensation to passengers who are denied boarding. Hence, in order to minimise ‘No Shows’, the airlines will be allowed to levy appropriate ‘No Show’ penalties in relation to the Fare as defined under rule 135 of the Aircraft Rules 1937. This penalty will be deducted from the Fare paid by the passenger.”
DGCA’s passenger rights report goes on to state that in case a flight is overbooked, the airline must first ask for volunteers to give up their seats for other booked passengers. In exchange, airlines may offer benefits/facilities at their discretion to the volunteers as mutually agreed upon by the passenger and airline.
If a passenger is denied boarding against her/his will, despite a confirmed ticket and checking in well within the specified timeframe, s/he must be compensated by the airline, in addition to full refund of the air ticket.
Compensation in accordance with the provisions of Para 3.5 by DGCA: 3.5.1 The financial compensation indicated below shall be given only if the amount of tickets costs is higher than the compensation amount:
a) Rs. 2,000/- or the value of the ticket whichever is less for flights having a block time* of up to and including one hour.
b) Rs. 3.000/- or the value of the ticket whichever is less for flights having block time of more than one hour and upto and including two hours.
c) Rs. 4,000/- or the value of the ticket whichever is less for flights having a block time of more than two hours.
If the cost of the ticket is less than the amount of compensation indicated above, the airline will be liable to compensate an amount equivalent to the ticket cost in addition to refund of air ticket.
3.5.2 The compensation referred to in Para 3.5.1 shall be paid in cash, by bank transfer or with the signed agreement of the passenger in the form of travel vouchers, in accordance with CAR Section 3, Series M, Part II.
3.5.3 Additionally, the passenger shall be offered the choice between the following:
a) Refund of air ticket at the price it was purchased.
b) A flight to the first point of departure.
c) Alternate transportation under comparable/alternate mode of transport (whenever applicable), to the final destination.
d) Alternate transportation under comparable/alternate mode of transport (whenever applicable), to their final destination at a later date at the passengers’ convenience, subject to availability of seats.
3.5.4 The affected passenger shall be offered compensation alternatives listed in Para 3.5.1 and Para 3.5.3 above and once the option has been selected the affected passenger will not have the option to switch to another form of compensation.
3.5.5 In case of foreign carriers, the amount of compensation paid to the passengers shall be as contained in the regulations of their country of origin or as given in para 3.5.1 of this CAR, whichever is higher.
3.6 Facilities to be offered to Passengers
3.6.1 Passengers shall be offered free of charge the following:
a) Meals and refreshments in relation to waiting time.
b) Hotel Accommodation when necessary (including transfers).
3.6.2 Airlines shall pay particular attention to the needs of persons with reduced mobility and any other person(s) accompanying them.
*Block time: the time calculated from the moment the aircraft pushes back from the departure gate until the moment it pulls into the arrival gate.