The Draft Policy does not even remotely indicate anything to make air travel stress-free, trouble-free, convenient and comfortable for passengers. There is no proposal for any grievance redressal system either
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) has released a draft National Civil Aviation Policy 2015 suggesting a series of steps to take flying to the masses. The policy inter-alia has proposed viability gap funding for regional routes, liberal bilateral traffic rights, self-handling airport operations and retaining the route dispersal guidelines.
According to the Policy, the vision is to create an eco-system to enable 30 crore domestic tickets by 2022 and 50 crore by 2027. Similarly, international ticketing is likely to increase to 20 crore by 2027. Besides, the mission of the Policy is to provide safe, secure, affordable and sustainable air travel with access to various parts of India and the world.
But the whole Policy is silent about the need to create an environment conducive for convenience and satisfaction of air travellers who have a vital role in making the lofty vision and the mission successful. With steep growth in air traffic and spreading air travel to the hinterland, number of flyers are bound to increase manifold. However, the Policy does not even remotely indicate the steps proposed to make air travel stress free, trouble free, convenient and comfortable for passengers, who suffer at the hands of airlines that treat economy class passengers like cattle. If celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar had to face the indifference and ignominy at the hands of a reputed foreign airline recently, one can imagine the fate of lesser mortals who are always at the receiving end when the aircraft movements get disrupted due to a variety of reasons.
Safety of air travellers:
The Policy makes a very general statement with regard to aviation safety. It no doubt says that the focus will be on pre-empting and preventing incidents and safety violations will be treated with zero-tolerance. Apart from saying that the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will be authorised to impose fines and penalties depending upon the nature of violations, the Policy is silent as to how passengers will be protected in the case of incidents and accidents. Though prevention of accidents is better than cure, it is a fact that unless and until obligations of airlines are unambiguously spelt out, there is always a temptation to short change passengers. This will ensure that travellers are compensated promptly and fairly without having to fight for their rights.
Need for a grievance redressal mechanism for air travellers:
Grievances of air travellers are not being given the attention it deserves, and there is total callousness, especially in attending to grievances of passengers. This is evident from the harassment meted out to the passengers whenever the flights are delayed or cancelled. There are guidelines issued by the DGCA on facilities to be provided to passengers by airlines due to denied boarding, cancellation of flights and delays in flights. However, general experience of air travellers is that they are observed more in breach than in compliance.
Surprisingly, there is no regulatory mechanism in the airline industry for travellers to get grievance redressed when there is no response to customer complaints. The present guidelines say that if the airlines fail to fulfil their obligations, passengers may complain to the statutory bodies set up under the relevant applicable laws. This means the aggrieved passenger is required to knock doors of consumer forums or civil courts to get justice. This is not only cumbersome but time consuming and most of the time result in forcing the consumer to suffer in silence.
Set up an Independent Ombudsman for the airline industry:
What is, therefore, required is a regulatory mechanism to attend to grievances of air passengers to provide justice quickly and easily. Banking industry follow a grievance redressal machinery like Banking Ombudsman Scheme. The government should, therefore, set up an institution of independent Civil Aviation Ombudsman with offices in all metros to provide easy, trouble free and cost effective grievance redressal mechanism.
The setting up of office of Ombudsman for the airline industry should be supplemented by appropriate guidelines for the airlines to provide instant compensation to travellers without their asking for any deficiency in service delivery on the lines what is done by the Telecom Regulatory Authority in the case of call drops for mobile telecom users.
This will certainly provide the necessary thrust to the growth of airline industry and make the vision and the mission outlined in the draft National Civil Aviation Policy 2015 a success.
(The author is a financial analyst, writing for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’.)