Aargh. I know I must be sounding like a broken record by now, but I need to continue to reiterate the need to stay off booking any travel at this point in time. Why? Because who knows which post of mine manages to reach a few people who haven’t read our site before and might find the advice useful.
As conventional wisdom goes, when an airline puts tickets on sale, customers assume they have the right permissions in place and everything going to work out on the day of travel. They know that there would be this one reason called weather or natural calamity due to which they may not be able to fly or fly on time, and they are willing to, sometimes, buy travel insurance for it. But this time around, when tickets have been opened for booking from April 15 onwards, and then May 4 onwards, there is no surety of travel but the airlines are selling tickets regardless.
Airlines are treating the order to shut down flights till a certain date as the way of looking at things and go on and open bookings from the day after, as it helps their topline to get cash in from the customers. The government should blanket ask the airlines to stop planning for resumption of operations until further notice, but instead, they are just looking the other way.
Yesterday, when we and many other publications reported that Air India had opened tickets for sale for international flights from June 1, 2020, onwards, we were sent a tweet by the Minister for Civil Aviation which came out about the same time and was included in our previous article. It said,
The Ministry of Civil Aviation clarifies that so far no decision has been taken to open domestic or international operations.
— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) April 18, 2020
I think the time for clarifications has long gone past. While after seeing this tweet, which perhaps was a soft order to Air India to stand down with bookings, for now, other airlines are not looking at this of any legal value and continue to sell tickets from May 4, 2020, onwards, that too with ZERO indication that if these tickets will be cancelled there will be no refunds and only credit shells. Everyone continues to offer tickets on sale from May 4 onwards. Here are just two examples.
Now, the problem is that this can easily be solved without a clarification and a clear order from the Government that no air tickets be sold till there is a firm plan for the return of air travel. (Update: this order was subsequently issued) I mean this is perhaps going to mean 6 customers more or 6 less on a flight, right? This could be six days away or six months away, but no one is saying yet. If the opening of the airlines gets postponed, the airlines will again keep the money in a shell and not even make a full refund. And to think of it, credit shells are a choice of the customer, not an option for the airline, legally, to put money in a shell for the customer. Have a look at the Civil Aviation Regulations, which states,
The option of holding the refund amount in credit shell by the airlines shall be the prerogative of the passenger and not a default practice of the airline”
I mean, once is a mistake, twice is a decision, third time around, any more than that has no chance of being forgiven. Is that not what they say? Why do we trust them again then?
Not just that, the aviation bureaucracy in India is also playing hoodwinking with everyone. They issued an order to airline to refund all the tickets that were issued during the lockdown period for travel during the lockdown itself, fully and within three weeks.
This circular is flawed because it differentiates and impacts a very small number of customers who may have booked on day one or two of the lockdown for travel at the end of the lockdown, not everyone who had tickets booked for flying during the lockdown, perhaps sometimes from the time when CoronaVirus was not even a thing. While the CAR (the governing regulations) state that it is a norm that at least a full refund be made for cancellations 14 days out. Who is paying everyone else their refunds? In the USA, the Department of Transportation has made it clear in no uncertain terms that customers be made whole for flights cancelled during the pandemic.
The inaction of the government and the one-sided nature of the airline’s interactions with their customers, putting their own cash needs over the liquidity needs of their customers, should remind you again that if you end up getting stuck with a non-used ticket in the coming days for whatever reason if and when air travel won’t resume, the airlines won’t be watching out for you, and so, the best strategy is to just not give them your business till they get airborne again.
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