Consumer rights: DGCA to insist airline refund ticket in case of cancellation

The whole concept of low-cost airlines in India demands a new form of business where costs are minimized. Hence, over the years, we have seen airlines which are no-frills (such as Deccan, Spicejet, Go, Indogo, etc), with no newspapers and magazines, where no food is served / food has to be bought, and so on. Such airlines have brought the total cost of travelling down tremendously, letting people travel by with cheap tickets rather than the very expensive tickets that had to be bought earlier from full-fare airlines such as Indian Airlines and Jet Airlines would be charging; these full fare airlines would provide a much better level of service, but would also charge a much higher fare, sometimes 3-4 times the fare charged by these low-cost airlines.
However, at the same time, some of the practices that they followed to save money were anti-customer. If a ticket was cancelled, they would not refund the whole amount, or in really bad cases, the airline would give a voucher to travel on a later date but would not actually give the money back; in some cases, the refund would take a really long to come through and only after much follow-up from the traveler. In order to change some of these practices, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has made it binding on airlines to refund the money and not follow a practise of proving a voucher instead. However, airlines have been loath to do, making the DGCA threaten to take action:

Some low cost carriers (LCC) follow a controversial policy of no refunds by insisting that those who cancel their tickets fly again within a certain period of time in lieu of the refund. The DGCA had some months back issued a rule that airlines must give the option of both a refund and future travel to those who cancel tickets in time.
But despite this legal requirement, some LCCs are still not refunding money and asking passengers to travel again within a cutoff period. “We have been receiving such complaints from the public. It’s our constitutional obligation to ensure that laid down rules and regulations are followed,” DGCA chief Kanu Gohain said. The agency is going to seek an explanation from defiant airlines this week by issuing notices to them and threatening stern action if they don’t start following the rule of refund.

Airlines have been protesting this rule, but the fact is that not allowing customers a refund when they have not availed of a service, and used a quite normal procedure of cancellation is a violation of customer service norms, and cannot be allowed just because it works in the airline’s favor. The DGCA should continue to enforce this rule, and customers, if presented a voucher by an airline rather than a refund should protest to the airline, and petition the DGCA, as well as consumer forums. They should also refuse to accept any such voucher, and point out to the airline that this matter will go to a consumer forum.

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