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 Act 2019 (which overhauls the 1986 law) 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).
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 provides for initiation of a corporate insolvency resolution process by a financial creditor, operational creditor or the corporate debtor itself, where a corporate debtor commits a default, but we are unaware of any case where a passenger has approached the courts under this statute. Very recently, insolvency proceedings before the National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench have been initiated against Jet Airways for failing to pay dues worth several billion rupees to banks, vendors, lessors and employees.
A CAR dated 28 February 2014 (revised 27 February 2019) under section 3 - Air Transport, Series M, Part I pertains to ‘Carriage by Air - Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility’. The CAR is applicable to all Indian operators engaged in scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services both domestic and international, all foreign carriers engaged in scheduled air transport operating to and from Indian territory and all airport operators within Indian territory. Paragraph 4.1.1 specifically provides that no airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or reduced mobility and their assistive aids or devices, escorts and guide dogs including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking, inform the airline of their requirements. Paragraph 4.1 of this CAR deals with airline-specific requirements and paragraph 4.2 pertains to airport operators. Paragraph 4.5 provides for passenger grievance redressal whereunder a person with disability or reduced mobility, who considers that provisions of this CAR have been infringed, may bring the matter to the attention of the airline or airport operator, as the case may be. The operator shall ensure speedy and proper redressal of these complaints. The operator shall appoint a nodal officer and appellate authority to settle the grievances in a stipulated time frame, and if the concerned operator fails to fulfil its obligations, the person with disability or reduced mobility may complain to the statutory authorities set up under relevant applicable laws, such as the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities or Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in the state concerned. There are also statutes, the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 along with its 1996 Rules and the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Disabilities Act 1999 and its 2000 Rules.
Some examples of recent passenger-friendly consumer protection cases are as follows.
In Jeeja Ghosh and another v Union of India and others, (2016) 7 SCC 761, the petitioners stated in detail the treatment meted out to Jeeja Ghosh in 2012 when she was forcibly de-boarded by the flight crew on the insistence of the captain of the aircraft because of her disability. Ms Ghosh was to travel from Kolkata to Goa to attend a conference, which she had to miss. The Supreme Court held: ‘After considering the respective arguments of the counsel for the parties and going through the relevant provisions of Rules and CAR 2008 brought to our notice, we arrive at the irresistible conclusion that Jeeja Ghosh was not given appropriate, fair and caring treatment which she required with due sensitivity, and the decision to de-board her, in the given circumstances, was uncalled for. More than that, the manner in which she was treated while deboarding from the aircraft depicts total lack of sensitivity on the part of the officials of the airlines. The manner in which she was dealt with proves the assertion of Shapiro as correct and justified that “non-disabled do not understand disabled ones”’. The court further held that SpiceJet Ltd had acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules 1937 and CAR 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Jeeja Ghosh and also unreasonable discrimination against her, and 1 million rupees as damages was awarded to be payable to her by SpiceJet within a period of two months from the date of the order.
In Air France v Dimple Bhambra Malhotra II  CPJ 393 (NC) the complainant travelled from Paris to London on an Air France flight 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 eventually 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 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 interest at 9 per cent per annum.
In Air France v OP Srivastava and others, decided by the NCDRC on 22 March 2018, the appellant questioned the correctness of an order dated 29 May 2008, passed by the UP State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Lucknow whereby the airline had been directed to pay 630,000 rupees to each of the three complainants who had been denied boarding, along with interest. The complainants, who held senior management positions in the Sahara Group of Companies, including Sahara Airlines, had requested a change of date for their return journey and three confirmed tickets were issued, but on the relevant date they were not allowed to board the flight at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris owing to overbooking. The complainants had to stay at Paris at their own expense and claimed business loss, etc. The airline as appellant submitted that for denied boarding, as an accepted international and national practice, 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 airline, the complainants had still filed the complaint. 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 territorial jurisdiction to entertain the complaint; the claim made in the complaint to the tune of 5 million rupees was resisted as being highly inflated, speculative and grossly disproportionate; the airline averred that the complainants suffered no loss, inasmuch as, if there was any loss at all, it would have been to the company, namely, Sahara India, which was not a party to the complaint; the liability of the airline 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 an 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 comprising 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, was not traceable. 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 . 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 only resume his duties after eight days. The complaint was allowed and opposite parties 1 to 9 were directed to pay 2,241,560 rupees against which an appeal was filed. The NCDRC partly allowed the appeal holding that the: ‘Perusal of record reveals that complainant claimed huge amount without any reasonable justification and learned State Commission allowed 21,91,560 rupees besides cost’. It was held that the complainant would only be entitled to 51,000 rupees and 5,000 rupees as the cost of litigation (instead of 50,000 rupees awarded by the State Commission). The appellant was directed to pay the amount within 30 days.
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 alternative arrangements. 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 upholding the decision of the district forum the airline was directed to refund the amount of the new tickets after deducting the airfare for the cancelled flight, pay 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 (AAI) 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 claiming actual loss, business loss, loss of reputation, mental agony and interest. Dismissing an appeal by the importer, it was held by the NCDRC that the finding of deficiency in service had become final as the complainant had declared the value of the consignment prior to booking of goods. 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 of the complaint 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 filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India, which is still pending.
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