As with almost everything in this complicated world, paper work is often the bane
Indians are becoming avid travellers, at home and abroad. There are, however, turbulences, even before take-off. As with almost everything in this complicated world, paper work is often the bane.
A couple was to travel from France to Cambodia. At Paris airport, the couple was not allowed to board. There were problems with their papers. Serious problems. One passport had expired and a Cambodian visa was missing. The family had to go home and leave by another airline, 19 days later.
The family sued.
You be the judge.
Would you side with the airline for refusing; or with the family that insisted that they were not told to bring the documents?
The lower court, referring to the ‘Tourism Code’, awarded the family the difference in the cost of the new tickets, compared with that of the old ones.
The airline did not give up. It appealed. The effort worked. The fine was invalidated. The court held that “ …an air carrier has no duty to inform passengers of necessary travel and immigration documents, as it is not a travel agent. Thus, each passenger who buys a ticket for an international flight is responsible for obtaining all relevant and valid travel documents.” It further held that “ …that the Tourism Code does not apply to air carriers when they sell tickets only to passengers.” It remanded the matter to the subordinate court of first instance. How did that decision come about?
It is the duty of the travel agent to make sure that all necessary documents are in place and in proper order. All carriers are excluded from this requirement. Makes sense. Why do something at the boarding gate when it can be done prior to that? All that the airline has to be responsible for is checking whether the documents are valid or not. No more. And, if there is a lacuna, the airline is forbidden from allowing the passenger to fly.
Does this apply to Indians too? The answer lies in the fact that the airlines are governed by international rules and conventions. The Warsaw Convention and then The Montreal Convention have specific clauses. They state, “ …however founded, whether under this Convention or in contract or in tort or otherwise, can only be brought subject to the conditions and such limits of liability as are set out in this Convention.” The family’s complaint fell outside this.
Yet, there are snafus, purposefully pre-arranged, or otherwise. There seems to be little that can be done, though a bit of head-on-the-shoulders attitude may save the day.
A client had his passport impounded. We got it released from the court. He booked tickets for himself and his son, to China. With the ever-present computers, the CID got to know of it. The flight was due to leave at five in the morning. The CID impounded the passport at nine, the night before. We got it released an hour later; the client re-booked his ticket, though losing many thousands of rupees.
Half an hour to flight time, at 4.30am, some person at the gate, saying that he was from the external affairs ministry, re-impounded the passport. It was impossible to do anything, the airport being 20km away. Except that we went to the court again and recovered the passport once more. It has not been touched since then.
The son went to China alone.
Horror stories? Everyone has them. Here is another, but with a pleasanter ending. A lady lawyer got her passport for the first time. She travelled abroad. A year later, on the evening before leaving on an official trip to Sri Lanka, she received a letter. It was back-dated by 55 days. It said her passport was invalid. We spent the next day barging into the passport office, insisting on a clearance, then visiting the police station and warning them not to try their stuff at the airport. Thankfully, the matter is cold-stored till date.
But the questions remain: WHY?
As for our flyers from Paris, the appellate court, to add salt to the wound, remarked that one of the passengers was a lawyer… and should have known better!