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Mumbai: Why passenger-airline conflicts are on the rise

Updated on: 23 February,2024 06:58 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Prasun Choudhari |

High fares, saturated flights, lack of communication, vague rules and a toothless regulator is the perfect recipe for disaster

Mumbai: Why passenger-airline conflicts are on the rise

The unprecedented growth of air travel has strained airline staff. Representation pic

The rising number of incidents involving passengers and airlines has become a growing concern within the aviation industry. To understand the underlying reasons and potential solutions, mid-day interviewed aviation experts and aviation rights activists. According to industry professionals, several factors contribute to these incidents, including increased passenger stress levels, often worsened by long wait times, crowded flights, technical issues, and overbooking. Additionally, the unprecedented growth of air travel has strained airline staff, leading to heightened tensions and occasional conflicts

Recent Incidents

>> IndiGo flight 6E 5316 (Mumbai to Bareilly) on December 29, 2023: Passengers of IndiGo Airlines flight 6E 5316 were compelled to travel from Delhi to Bareilly at their own expense after the flight was cancelled. The airline failed to provide alternative travel options, leaving passengers stranded for hours.

>> IndiGo flight 6E 228 (Bombay to Guwahati) on January 16, 2024: Two passengers were forcibly removed from the flight due to overbooking, enduring a nine-hour ordeal at Mumbai airport without alternative arrangements or assistance from IndiGo officials.

>> SpiceJet flight SG 268 (Mumbai to Bengaluru) on February 19, 2024: Passengers alleged a two-hour delay without proper communication or consideration for basic needs, causing distress, especially among senior citizens.

Experts speak

Aviation rights activist, Adv Yashwant Shenoy said, “A major factor responsible for the increasing number of conflicts between the airlines and passengers is the loophole in communications. Passengers often reach the airport on time to find out that their flight is delayed by several hours or cancelled. This naturally prompts the passengers to become outraged resulting in a conflict between them (passengers and the airlines).

There have been multiple instances where flights were diverted from one airport to another but the passengers were left without being attended to or on their own without arranging for an alternate route for them. Frustration caused by the airlines to the passengers in such situations is also a factor responsible for the increase in a number of such incidents.”

Shenoy also criticised flaws in the current judicial system and laws, stating that complaints made to the DGCA or the Ministry of Civil Aviation often go unresolved due to the slow judicial process, allowing airlines to exploit passengers. “In other countries, for unsafe practices, the airline is grounded, in India they are penalised financially. This means the lives of passengers can be put at risk by paying penalties,” Shenoy added.

Capt. Mohan Ranganathan another aviation expert said, “If there are delays and cancellations, the refund rules are loaded towards the airlines and not to the passenger’s benefit and that is why, the conflicts have increased. All the rules that the ministry and DGCA have formed have several grey areas which the airlines can use and deny repayments or refunds.”

He added, “Another very important thing is that once a boarding pass is issued to a passenger, it is a contract between the passenger and the airline where it is the airline’s responsibility in cases of delays and cancellations. In such conditions, the regulator is playing into the hands of the airlines and that is why the conflicts are increasing. The CAR (Civil Aviation Requirements) has never been enforced in any such cases. Airlines are the ones controlling the DGCA which is why no stringent action has been taken.”

Expressing the need to formulate new rules, he said, “It is time the regulators start acting like regulators and enforce the laws.” Advocate Jyotishwar Bhosle said, “When passengers are involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking, it is not just an inconvenience; it’s a breach of their legal rights. The lack of prompt and adequate response from the airline and regulatory bodies further compounds the issue.”

DGCA official speaks

A senior official from DGCA Western Region, speaking anonymously, said, “Conflict between passengers and airlines is a vast topic of discussion. Many times, we (DGCA) remain or are kept in the complete dark about incidents as passengers or airlines never report them to the DGCA. A lack of passengers rights awareness causes conflicts between them (Airlines and Passengers). Also, many times the airlines take advantage of the lack of awareness among the passengers to exploit them.”

The official further added, “When the gap between the passenger and the regulatory bodies is decreased, the number of conflicts will reduce, while the number of official complaints with the regulatory bodies will increase, prompting us to take action against the airlines. In any conflict, there are two reasons: either the passenger is not aware of his rights and is never able to fight back against the airlines, or the passenger is at fault and the airlines take action against him/her, resulting in further  conflict.

The regulatory bodies recently penalised the Mumbai airport and Indigo Airlines  where a video of passengers eating on the tarmac went viral. Even in this case, the passengers were at fault as they were not aware that they were not supposed to be sitting on the tarmac, but the penalty was levied upon the airlines and the airport as they were the ones who failed to ensure the passengers don’t act this way.”

Regarding the redressal system in place, the official said, “MoCA has a portal for consumer grievance redressal on its website. Also, email IDs of DGCA and MoCA officials are available on their websites, where the affected passenger can escalate the issue.”

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