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There should be a clear written undertaking when airline fails to deliver promised facilities as stated, under the contract of travel, and this must form part of the ticket itself. The ticket must also list out the compensation available for air travellers
The recent announcement by the civil aviation ministry in regard to unbundling of airfares, permitting airlines to charge for extra baggage by reducing the existing free baggage allowance and for the preferred seat allocation, has drawn flak from the travelling public. Beyond these protests, travellers are helplessly placed.
The actual modus operandi has not yet been announced but the ministry may now permit seating charges be limited to 15% of the seats, for meeting customer requirements.
Recently, a Far Eastern airline (or was it Mongolian?) announced that it would be charging airfare based on the weight of the passenger! One hopes that our civil aviation ministry has not seen this news item!
Anyway, soon after this clearance by the ministry, both Jet Airways and IndiGo have started extra charge for various seats, such as the window, several rows including those near the exit gates, etc.
Moneylife carried a report on this recently for which there was a good response from the readers (Now pay for check-in baggage as ministry allows airlines to levy charges). When this development initially hit the headlines, it was felt that at least some of these changes may bring in some comfort to the passenger who can afford or willing to pay for such facilities, but, surely, this will bring in additional revenue and profits to the airlines.
The travelling public, however, would like the ministry to lay down the ground rules when airlines fail to perform its promised functions, for which an additional charge has been collected.
At the outset, when bookings are made online or through authorized travel agents, the passenger should be able to visually see the available seat status, configuration of the aircraft, as the seating pattern would vary, and then make a choice.
For instance, the airline crew, including the in-flight security, occupy certain specific spots to handle an emergency situation. These will be pre-blocked and some of them will be near exit points. Wheel-chair passengers and mothers carrying infants need to be placed at certain locations for easy mobility, which includes those with certain types of handicaps.
Besides the issue of seating, already several airlines offer in-flight meal service at a cost. This, now, could be done at the ticket booking stage itself, if the menu details are known and buy this facility at the same time. Now the ministry needs to lay down the rules, unambiguously, when the following events occur:
a) Prepaid selected seat is not available (for any reason)
b) After boarding, the crew approaches a passenger for change of seat to accommodate another passenger, for any reason, including genuine needs
c) Ordered meal is not available/ delivered
d) Delay in flight, beyond 30 minutes and compensation for the same
e) Cancellation of a flight altogether
Also, in regard to baggage, for domestic flights, if 15 kg is the maximum free check-in allowance, rules on hand (cabin) baggage such as computers, duffel/any other type of bags, ladies handbag and special food for infants and sick passengers need to be clearly stated.
Likewise, there should be a clear written undertaking when airline fails to deliver promised facilities as stated, under the contract of travel, and this must form part of the ticket itself.
The biggest victim in the whole process is that we are not anymore ‘green’ for every passenger is forced to print out 2/3 pages of the ticket, and million such will be printed every day! Because, now, entrance to the airport is not possible unless the passenger produces the ticket and a photo ID. Not all the airports have CCTV at all places of entry or exit; then, the passenger proceeds towards the airline counter, where, traffic assistants help and direct them to a serpentine queue that will take them to the check-in counter. Again, there is a check on ID, baggage acceptance, and handbag tags are issued.
However, the lacuna continues to be that there are no airline personnel at the security point where the hand baggages are checked and cleared and individual physical check takes place, because, security personnel are not bothered how many bags one carries as long as baggage tags are there (which are freely available at the check-in counter), after which one proceeds towards the gate to take the flight. When flight is announced, one more checking is done by the security personnel, who are concerned with the stamped security tags, not how much it weighs, and then passenger moves on into the aircraft to take the allotted seat.
All these observations are based on actuals as they happen every day. In the interest of aircraft safety and security, as much as that of the passengers, it is imperative that aviation ministry, in coordination with airlines and airport security, draw up a comprehensive list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ so that all concerned have a smooth ride. The ticket must also list out the compensation available for not performing the promised (or contractual) commitments of the airline.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)