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Airlines must communicate

The US Transportation Department reportedly slapped an $80,000 fine on Air India for failing to post customer service and tarmac delay contingency plans on its website and adequately inform passengers about optional fees. Air India had approximately eight months to do the needful, considering these rules came into effect from August 2011.

Foreign carriers operating to the US with at least one aircraft of 30 or more seats were asked, back then, to adopt contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays as well as customer service plans. All these plans were to be shared on their websites. Another thing both American and foreign carriers with websites selling tickets to US consumers were asked to include on their homepages was a prominent link taking viewers to a page showing all fees for optional services, including baggage fees. Air India failed to do the needful by the required date, apparently, hence the fine.

What we take away from this is two things. First, that our national carrier comes across as an organisation that isn’t interested in following guidelines irrespective of where they are set down. The fine could easily have been avoided, especially keeping in mind the fact that the airline has been struggling financially for as long as we can remember.

Secondly, we notice the need for transparency that drove the Americans to insist on rules like these in the first place. In India, the absence of such mandatory postings online or offline mean that airlines simply take for granted that they need not communicate with passengers. Delays on tarmacs are a regular occurrence, as are issues including the over-booking of flights. The few passengers who brave consumer courts alone manage to walk away with justice. Air India aside, why is it so hard for Indian companies to talk to their customers?

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