SC notice to Centre, DGCA on plea for refund of ticket for flights cancelled due to lockdown

The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Centre and the DGCA to respond to a plea seeking directions to airlines to refund full amount of tickets for the flights cancelled due to restrictions imposed in India to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan issued notices to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) seeking their replies on the plea which has alleged that airlines have failed to refund the ticket amount and are "illegally imposing" the mechanism of ''credit shell'' on unwilling passengers.

"Issue notice," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and M R Shah.

The plea, filed by Air Passengers Association of India, claimed that refusal to refund the amount is "arbitrary" and is in blatant violation of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) as acceptance of ''credit shell'' is at the sole discretion of the passengers.

"It is submitted that the airlines are illegally imposing the mechanism of ''credit shell'' on the unwilling passengers. The concept refers to a form of credit note which can be used to make a new booking with the same airline for a period so provided by the airline, usually of one year, as is being offered by most of the airlines," said the plea, filed through advocate Rohit Rathi.

The bench said the matter would be heard along with a pending petition in the apex court which has also raised similar issue.

The apex court said the petitioner's counsel shall serve a copy of the plea to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The plea filed by the association has also sought declaring as "arbitrary" the action on the part of airlines in not refunding the full ticket amount.

It said that on April 16, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had directed all airlines to refund the full amount collected for tickets booked during first lockdown period from March 25 to April 14, and also where refund was sought by passengers against booking being cancelled.

The plea said the office memorandum further directed that for ticket booked during the first lockdown period for travel during the second lockdown period from April 15 to May 3 and the passenger seeking refund on cancellation of ticket, the airline shall refund the full amount without levy of cancellation charges.

It said the DGCA had issued a circular on April 19 directing the airlines to refrain from booking tickets for journeys to be undertaken with effect from May 4.

The plea claimed that despite the directives of the ministry and the DGCA, the airlines have failed to refund the ticket amount.

"The action on the part of airlines insofar they fail to refund the money of the passengers is in blatant violation of the CAR given that the acceptance of ‘credit shell’ is at the sole discretion of the passengers," it alleged.

"It is submitted that the money lying in the ‘credit shell’ may not be of any avail to the passenger who had a specific reason for booking the tickets during the lockdown," the plea said.

It said that in these "testing times", a passenger might require the money lying in ''credit shell'' for immediate necessity.
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