Issue Orders Against Illegal Charging Of Cancellation Fees On Air Tickets: Chandigarh Consumer Forum To Ministry Civil Aviation [Read Order]
The Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum at Chandigarh has asked the Ministry Of Civil Aviation to consider the issue of illegal charging of amount by airlines on cancellation and/or modification of tickets by passengers.
"…unfortunately the airlines have indulged in charging heavy fares taking benefit of helplessness on the part of needy individuals…The Airlines have high bargaining power, unquestionable stature, have no consideration for the just and legal rights of the innocent public/travelers…" the bench of Priti Malhotra and Ravinder Singh said. The court has also asked the Ministry to issue orders to airlines to discontinue the unfair trade practice and not to repeat them.
The order was passed in the backdrop of a consumer complaint filed by one Gautam Dutt through Advocate Shiti Jain Dutt, alleging unfair trade practice on part of both Cleartrip and Go Air. He had booked a 'refundable' flight ticket on Go Air from Banglore to Pune through Cleartrip. However, on cancellation he received a mail from Cleartrip that his refund had been zeroed.
The Petitioner had booked the ticket for Rs. 1721/- and on cancellation, the airlines deducted Rs. Rs.1166/-. The remaining Rs. 683/- was refunded. However, the booking agent Cleartrip deducted an amount of Rs.250/- towards the cancellation charges and Rs.270/- as convenience charges and has also reversed the cash back discount of Rs.400/- which the complainant had received at the time of making the said booking. Thus in total 'Nil' refund amount had been processed to the complainant.
Cleartrip submitted that the deductions were made as per terms and conditions well within the knowledge of the complainant; thus there was no deficiency in their service.
The airlines also contended through Advocate Gaurav Bhardwaj that there was no deficiency in their service and as the ticket was booked at a special fare by the Complainant, the same was non-refundable.
The court noted that cancellation charge was more than 65% of the ticket amount, whereas the complainant was misguided by quoting that the ticket was refundable. "The confiscation of whole of the amount of Rs.1721/- which the complainant has paid for the ticket despite the ticket being refundable, is against established canon of law. The terms & conditions referred to at this stage by the Opposite Parties regarding booking & cancellation of the ticket in question, is superfluous and cannot be forced to be applicable in this matter. Such conditions as is envisaged from the ticket Ann.C-1 were never part of the transaction of booking of the ticket Online. The OPs cannot be permitted to dwell upon such so called irrelevant, superfluous and unreasonable guidelines/terms & conditions, as referred herein in the rebuttal to the claim of the complainant", the bench said.
Reliance was placed upon the Supreme Court's verdict in Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Ltd. & Anr. v. Brojo Nath Ganguly, 1986 AIR 157, wherein it was held on the basis of Article 14 of the Constitution that, "Courts will not enforce and will, when called upon to do so, strike down an unfair and unreasonable contract, or an unfair and unreasonable clause in a contract entered into between parties who are not equal in bargaining power".
Thus, the Respondents were directed to refund Rs. 1721/- to the Complainant along with Rs. 5,000/- litigation expenses.
The court went on to criticize the practice of charging cancellation fees even in cases where cancellation was made immediately after making the booking. "…due to emergence of Online booking system, the scenario of fairness had almost extinguished…Even if a person while booking the ticket Online for a particular destination by mistake fills a wrong date or date and opt for it, but just after getting the ticket if he realizes and try to correct the mistake and got a proper ticket, he is bound to suffer great loss of money by way of cancellation charges…"
The bench also condemned overbooking of flights and frequent cancellation by airlines citing technical snag, etc. "The Airlines are often seen to cancel their flight on one account or the other, either it is on account of technical snag due to poor maintenance of their aircraft or due to some extraneous & lame excuses i.e. climate conditions etc., but they refused to own responsibility on one pretext or the other," the forum said.
In this context the court notified the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, asking them to issue appropriate orders to the airlines.