Kalpana and Swadesh Debbarma and their two minor children were booked on an Indigo Airlines flight from Kolkata to Agartala. They were issued boarding passes, but the flight took off without them.
They approached the airline with a written complaint, but it was not accepted, and the staff even allegedly forcibly took away their boarding passes. Their pleas to put them on some other flight are said to have gone unheeded. The family was compelled to book a hotel room and also spend on food till they could arrange money to buy fresh tickets. After two days, they finally travelled back to Agartala.
Due to this, the couple, both of whom are engineers with the Tripura government, could not attend office for two days, resulting in loss of salary.
The family approached the District Forum. The airlines contested the case, contending the family did not reach the boarding gate 25 minutes prior to flight departure so it was considered as ‘Gate No Show’ and the boarding passes were cancelled in accordance with the conditions of carriage. The airline stated that it had offered to accommodate the family on the next flight subject to availability of seats and payment of reaccommodation fees, but its offer was turned down. It denied liability to refund the fare.
The Forum allowed the complaint. Both sides appealed. The one filed by the airline was dismissed while Debbarma’s appeal was allowed by the Tripura State Commission. It ordered the airlines to refund ticket charges of Rs.16,432, reimburse Rs10,000 for hotel accommodation, and also awarded Rs10,000 toward compensation and Rs5,000 toward costs.
Indigo then filed a revision. The National Commission questioned the airlines if there was any evidence to show the boarding passes were cancelled as the family could not be located despite several announcements. The airline was unable to produce any proof. The Commission observed that once a passenger checks in, movement is restricted to a very limited area, so it is beyond comprehension why a passenger would not report at the gate despite announcements. The Commission further questioned why the airline, which takes a passenger’s contact details, had not attempted to telephonically contact the family. The airlines had no explanation to offer.
The Commission deprecated the attitude of the airline in snatching away the boarding passes and indicted it for failing to reduce the inconvenience to the family with two minor children. It also castigated the airline for filing a revision even though a meagre amount of Rs20,000 had been awarded as compensation.
Accordingly, by its order of September 12, 2018 delivered by the bench of justice RK Agrawal and M Shreesha, the National Commission dismissed Indigo’s revision.
Impact: If a person who has been issued a boarding pass does not report at the boarding gate, the airline has a duty to telephonically contact such a passenger instead of leaving him behind.
Jehangir Gai – Times of India 170918
(The author is a consumer activist and has won the Govt. of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org)