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Govt asks travel aggregators to refund airfares for bookings during Covid lockdown till third week of November

The Central government has instructed online travel platforms to process all pending refunds related to air ticket bookings from the pandemic lockdown period by next week.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal @JaiswalArushi New Delhi Published on: November 09, 2023 11:30 IST
REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE
Image Source : FILE PHOTO REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE

New Delhi: The Central government directed online travel platforms to process pending refunds to customers related to air ticket bookings during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period by the third week of November.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a nationwide lockdown for varying periods starting from March 25, 2020, and scheduled commercial flight services were also suspended for a certain period.

The Department of Consumer Affairs held a meeting with online travel aggregators to discuss issues prejudicial to consumer interest in the travel sector. During the meeting, chaired by Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh, the issue of non-refund of the number of tickets booked during the COVID-19 lockdown period was also highlighted.

In the meeting, the consumer affairs secretary noted that despite directions by the Supreme Court in a judgment dated October 1, 2020 in the case of Pravasi Legal Cell vs. Union of India (D.No. 10966 of 2020), complaints of non-refund of ticket amount were piling up on the National Consumer Helpline (1915). The apex court had ordered full refunds for tickets booked during the lockdown period for travel within that period. 

CCPA takes suo-moto cognizance

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) took suo-moto cognizance of this issue and issued notice to 6 online Travel Platforms: EaseMyTrip, Yatra, MakeMyTrip, HappyEasyGo, ClearTrip & Ixigo and 5 Travel Agencies such as Thomas Cook, Kesari Tours, Veena World, Neem Holidays & Mango Holidays.

Two travel companies, Ixigo and Thomas Cook, have so far refunded all outstanding amounts to customers. An investigation is ongoing in the case of travel platform HappyGoEasy for not disclosing the amount refunded so far or complying with instructions, the consumer affairs ministry said.

The CCPA is also probing Neem Holidays, a vacation-services firm, for irregularities. Three firms, Kesari Tours, Mango Holidays and Veena World, have filed petitions in the court against orders for refunds passed by the CCPA.

Process pending refunds by the third week of November

The travel platforms were informed that they should process the pending refunds by the third week of November, pursuant to which CCPA may initiate appropriate legal proceedings before the Supreme Court including filing of a contempt petition against the defaulting platforms.

During the meeting, it was deliberated that for effective resolution of consumer complaints, the National Consumer Helpline may be integrated with the Air Sewa Portal.

It was also highlighted by the representatives of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that the Ministry has published a ‘Passenger Charter’ which includes the rights of passengers during air travel. It was decided that the Charter should be actively publicized among consumers including publishing the same on the National Consumer Helpline.

“Further, the establishment of an Ombudsman for time-bound resolution of consumer grievances was also deliberated. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Department of Consumer Affairs can jointly work on the modalities involved in establishing the same,” the release said.

The meeting began with a presentation by Nidhi Khare, Special Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, who highlighted commonly prevalent ‘dark patterns’ on online travel platforms such as confirm shaming (Showing ‘No, I will risk it’ during add-on of insurance), showing pre-ticked checkboxes (for authorizing contact by platform, its affiliates and associate partners), triggering alarm (‘last few rooms left’, ‘18 people are looking to book’) and forced action (Giving option of ‘yes’ and ‘I’ll do this later’ for push notifications, without any option to select ‘no’).

The meeting was attended by representatives from major travel platforms including MakeMyTrip, Yatra, ClearTrip etc. It was also attended by noted consumer activists Pushpa Girimaji and Shirish Deshpande, Chairman, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.

 

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