The Carriage by Air Act of 1972 and the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 are the statutes under which passengers may file an action to redress their grievances or approach civil courts for compensation and damages. The former enacts the Warsaw, Hague and Montreal Conventions and the latter provides for redressal of a consumer dispute involving deficient services. The Consumer Protection Bill 2018 provides for product liability for service providers and seeks to increase the pecuniary jurisdiction of consumer courts (for district commissions, up to 10 million rupees; for state commissions, from 10 million to 100 million rupees; and for the national commission, claims above 100 million rupees).
Some examples of recent passenger-friendly consumer protection cases are as follows.
In Air France v Dimple Bhambra Malhotra II  CPJ 393 (NC) the complainant travelled from Paris to London on Air France on flight AF1380 on 2 July 2010. On arrival at London, one of her pieces of baggage was found missing. Since her ticket was in the bag that had been lost or misplaced, she could not go on to Frankfurt and she returned to Paris. The bag was later on traced and returned to the complainant but according to her, a number of articles were found missing. The complainant approached the concerned District Forum seeking compensation to the extent of 402,860 rupees. The complaint was resisted by the airline, having first admitted the delay in delivery of one bag but submitted that liability was limited under the Carriage by Air Act, amounting to just 6,747 rupees. The District Forum, however, ruled in favour of the complainant, the airline then approached the concerned State Commission by way of an appeal, which was dismissed. The airline then filed a revision petition before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). It was held: ‘Therefore, even while giving the widest and most liberal interpretation to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, this Commission cannot act contrary to the provisions contained under Section 22 of the Carriage by Air Act and cannot exceed the limit statutorily prescribed therein.’ The impugned order was set aside and the petitioner’s liability was fixed at 6,747 rupees along with compensation in the form of interest at 9 per cent per annum, with effect from 2 July 2010 until the date on which a sum of 25,000 rupees was withdrawn by the complainant from the concerned State Commission. The complainant was directed to refund the balance amount to the appellant airline.
In Air France v OP Srivastava and others decided by the NCDRC on 22 March 2018 the appellant questioned the legality and correctness of an order dated 29 May 2008, passed by the UP State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Lucknow, by which the complaint had been allowed and the appellant was directed to pay 630,000 rupees to each of the three complainants, totalling 1.89 million rupees, with simple interest at 10 per cent per annum, with a default stipulation of enhanced interest at 15 per cent per annum on the said amount, if the same was not paid within one month. The facts were that the complainants, who held senior management positions in the Sahara Group of Companies, including Sahara Airlines, requested a change of date of the return journey and three confirmed tickets were issued, but on the relevant date they were not allowed to board flight AF148 at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris owing to over-boarding. The complainants had to stay at Paris at their own expense. According to the complainants, since valuable 24 hours were lost, they being commercially important persons, in their absence the schedule of meetings was disrupted, resulting in a monetary loss of 5 million rupees to the company as consequential business loss. Eventually a complaint was filed praying for a direction to the appellant to return the excess amount charged on the tickets with 24 per cent compound interest and compensation of 5 million rupees for the losses suffered by the company and mental agony undergone by them. The appellant submitted that for denied boarding, an accepted practice internationally and nationally as also by the DGCA, the complainants were given €300 each plus free accommodation at Hotel Ibis Gare with meals, two telephone vouchers and nine telephone cards; after accepting the compensation and availing themselves of the facilities extended to them by the appellant, the complainants had filed the complaint in order to take undue advantage of the situation, without disclosing the facts, and hence they were estopped by their conduct from seeking recovery of damages and compensation. It was also alleged that no cause of action arose at Lucknow as the appellant did not have a branch office at Lucknow and, therefore, as per section 17(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, the State Commission at Lucknow did not have the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the complaint; the claim made in the complaint to the tune of 5 million rupees was highly inflated, speculative and grossly disproportionate; the complainants were not consumers, inasmuch as, if there was any loss at all, it would have been to the company, namely, Sahara India Parivar, which was not a party to the complaint; the liability of the appellant was limited to proven damages and, in no event, would it be liable for indirect damages as well as any form of non-compensatory damages; the appellant was ready to reimburse the differential amount of 30,805 rupees incurred by the complainants while seeking upgrade of their tickets; as a goodwill gesture an offer for full and final settlement had been made to the complainants but the same could not be construed as an admission of liability. The State Commission allowed the complaint as aforesaid. The NCDRC held: ‘… but for the quantum of compensation awarded by the State Commission in favour of the Complainants, its decision on all other points… does not suffer from any illegality, factual or legal, warranting interference.’ The appeal was partly allowed holding that: ‘ends of justice would be subserved if a lump sum compensation of 400,000 rupees is awarded to each one of the three Complainants for the personal inconvenience and harassment suffered by them on account of delay in their departure from Paris.’
In Air Arabia Airline v Ashok Kataria IV  CPJ 183 (NC) the complainant filed a complaint before the Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Mumbai alleging that on landing at Sahar International Airport Mumbai, their luggage containing four bags was not loaded from Sharjah. The complainant developed severe chest pain, fluctuations in blood pressure resulting in unconsciousness and from the airport he was directly taken to Nanawati Hospital for further medical treatment and management. Ultimately, three out of four bags were located and handed over to the passenger. The fourth bag contained, among other important things, medicines and (allegedly) one Rolex watch with cash of 3,000 dirhams. As the complainant could not proceed to Cochin as planned, he was forced to undergo surgery at Bombay Hospital for which he allegedly spent around 400,000 rupees as against estimated amount of 150,000 rupees planned for surgery at Cochin. The airline admitted the loss of the fourth bag and offered to settle the claim at US$20 per kilogram, presuming total weight of the bag as 30kg, but the complainant refused the offer and eventually preferred a complaint claiming 4,732,324 rupees and interest at 18 per cent per annum from the date of the incident. The complaint was partly allowed and the appellant was directed to pay 67,724 rupees with 12 per cent per annum interest as cost of medicines and to-and-fro expenses, 200,000 rupees for mental agony and 50,000 rupees as cost of litigation. The airline then filed an appeal before the NCDRC. The NCDRC held that it was not disputed that one bag of the complainant was lost but the complainant had not disclosed that it contained medicines worth 63,924 rupees. The appeal was partly allowed holding that grant of cost of medicines of 63,924 rupees was reduced to US$640 (US$20 per kilogram for maximum permissible baggage of 32kg), compensation for mental stress and agony was reduced to 100,000 rupees, litigation costs were reduced to 20,000 rupees and the award of 3,800 rupees for to-and-fro expenses was affirmed.
In British Airways v Kallol Basu II  CPJ 286 (NC) the complainant filed a complaint against the opposite parties before the Rajasthan State Commission on the ground that while deplaning from the appellant’s aircraft through a very old, wet, dilapidated, wobbly, unstable and malfunctioning staircase, provided by British Airways, he had a terrible and nasty fall entailing grave injury and instant and profuse bleeding through his nose. He was diagnosed with a serious case of intra-cranial subdural haematoma and could resume his duties only after eight days. The complaint was allowed and opposite parties 1 to 9 were directed to pay 2,241,560 rupees against which the instant appeal was preferred. The NCDRC partly allowed the appeal holding: ‘Perusal of record reveals that complainant claimed huge amount without any reasonable justification and learned State Commission allowed 21,91,560 rupees besides cost whereas as per my aforesaid observation, complainant is entitled to only 51,000 rupees and in such circumstances, complainant should be allowed to get only 5,000 rupees as cost of litigation instead of 50,000 rupees awarded by State Commission.’ The appellant was directed to pay 56,000 rupees against 2,241,560 rupees allowed by the State Commission within 30 days, failing which the amount would carry interest at 10 per cent per annum for the period of default.
Spicejet Ltd v Ranju Aery I  CPJ 546 (NC), was a case that concerned a complainant who booked tickets for herself and her family members on the petitioner airline’s flights. However, the connecting flight was cancelled and it was alleged that the airline did not make any alternative arrangement. The complainant bought new tickets from another airline for her onward journey and filed a complaint before the district forum that was decided in her favour and the appeal to the state commission was dismissed causing the airline to file a revision petition before the NCDRC. The airline’s reasons for cancellation of the flight (‘due to operational and technical reasons, which were beyond the [airline’s] control’) did not go down well with the NCDRC which observed that ‘other flights were operating normally’. The airline was found to be deficient in service and the revision petition was dismissed upholding the decision of the district forum directing the airline to refund the amount of the new tickets after deducting the airfare for the cancelled flight, interest at 9 per cent per annum and 1.25 million rupees as compensation for harassment, and 10,000 rupees as litigation costs.
In Micro Devices Inc v Airport Authority of India and another III  CPJ 594 (NC) the complainant had imported electronic components and the same were placed in the custody of the AAI pending customs clearance. One of the packages was found damaged and torn. Eventually a complaint was filed before the state commission claiming actual loss, business loss, loss of reputation, mental agony and interest. The state commission allowed the complaint partly leading the complainant to file an appeal before the NCDRC. It was held by the NCDRC that the finding of deficiency in service had become final and as the complainant had declared the value of the consignment prior to booking of goods, section 22(2) of the Carriage by Air Act of 1972 (relied upon by the respondents) was held to be not applicable. The order of the state commission was modified and the NCDRC allowed the appeal in part increasing the amount of compensation from 100,000 rupees to 299,959 rupees (actual loss) with interest at 9 per cent per annum from the date of filing the complaint till realisation and costs of 10,000 rupees.
In April 2015, the NCDRC fined Lufthansa 2 million rupees for failing to keep its promise of providing flat-bed seats to a particular business-class passenger. The NCDRC held Lufthansa responsible for indulging in ‘unfair trade practices’, asking the German airline to refund the flight ticket cost to the complainant, who said he was only given a ‘semi-reclined seat’ instead of a ‘lie-flat seat’ as promised. Lufthansa has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India, which is still pending.
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