Refund airfares of flights booked amid COVID-19 lockdown: India's Supreme Court

Airlines have been given an option to create a credit shell in the name of the passenger which can be availed for travel on any route

An airplane take off the airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

An airplane take off the airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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All airline tickets that were cancelled amid the Covid lockdown must be refunded without any additional charges, the Supreme Court of India ruled on Thursday. The judgment is applicable to both domestic and international tickets booked during this period. 

"Passengers who booked tickets through travel agents can collect the refund amount once the money is credited back into the agent's account," said the Indian Supreme Court.

"If a passenger has booked a ticket during the first lockdown (March 25 to April 14) and the airline has received payment - for both domestic and international air travel - the airline shall refund the full amount without levy of cancellation charges. The refund shall be made within a period of three weeks from the date of request of cancellation," said the top court of India.

"For those who made bookings prior to lockdown for a period up till May 24, the refund would be governed by the credit shell scheme and the incentives thereunder," the court ruled.

"The credit shell scheme will be valid until March 31 next year. The airline concerned must devise a mechanism to facilitate such a transfer," said the judgment.

The three-judge panel, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, passed the order after considering recommendations from the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to refund ticket fares.

The timeframe for airline companies to refund the ticket charges to passengers is March 31 next year, the judgement said. However, bookings made for travelling during lockdown need to be refunded immediately "since airlines were not supposed to book such tickets", the court said. 

Ruling for international travellers 

"An immediate refund shall be made for international airline travel tickets issued by Indian carriers during the lockdown period," the order said.

"If tickets are booked for international travel on a foreign carrier during the lockdown period, a full refund must be given immediately to the passengers by the agent, wherever such tickets are booked through agents. In other cases, the airline shall refund the passenger within a period of three weeks."

The court has asked the Ministry of Civil Aviation to issue compliance notification in the matter.

The top court's order came on a petition by Pravasi Legal Cell (PLC) and Air Passengers Association who demanded a refund for tickets booked prior to the lockdown.

"Millions were affected when air travel was cancelled in India due to Covid-19 and the subsequent imposition of a lockdown. More importantly, there wasn't any provision to receive a refund for the tickets thus cancelled. PLC could bring this matter up to the Supreme Court and win a favourable judgement. We are sure that this order will benefit millions of ordinary Indians during this period of challenges," said Dr Bins Sebastian, PLC secretary.

Air bubble to continue

With the exception of countries with which India shares a travel bubble agreement, international flights to and from India continue to be suspended until October 31, the DGCA announced late Wednesday.   India has air bubble arrangements in place with the UAE, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Kenya, Canada, Iraq, Japan, Maldives, and Nigeria.

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