The Supreme Court on Thursday (October 1, 2020) accepted the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) scheme for a refund of money for air tickets booked during the COVID-19 lockdown.
A three-judge Bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, endorsed the DGCA credit shell scheme which will be valid till March 31, and disposed of petitions on refund of air tickets booked for/during the lockdown. The Bench said in cases where air tickets had been booked through agents, a refund will happen through them only. It directed the Ministry of Civil Aviation to issue the necessary notification in this regard.
The verdict approving the DGCA scheme is likely to benefit thousands of air passengers whose hard-earned money remained stuck with airlines after their air tickets were canceled due to the lockdown. The Supreme Court on September 25 reserved its orders on a PIL seeking a full refund for air tickets booked during the lockdown, after hearing counsel for petitioner Pravasi Legal Cell, various airlines, the Centre, and the Directorate of Civil Aviation. On behalf of the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had clarified that credit shell i.e. voucher facility can't be availed by travel agents who booked tickets during the lockdown. Advocates representing airlines had talked about massive losses faced by them due to COVID-19 lockdown, while air travelers’ counsel had asserted that they can’t be made to suffer and their money has to be refunded. The DGCA had earlier told the top court that a full refund shall be provided by airlines immediately for tickets booked during the COVID-19 lockdown for domestic or international travel within the lockdown period. If airlines were not able to refund on account of financial distress, they shall provide a credit shell equal to the amount of fare collected and this shall be issued in the name of the passenger who has booked the ticket for domestic travel directly or through an agent, including online platforms, the DGCA had said. Passengers entitled to a full refund for air tickets booked during Lockdown 1 & 2 during which air travel was banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre had earlier told the Supreme Court. “If the tickets have been booked during the first lockdown period, i.e. 25th of March, 2020 to 14th of April, 2020 for the journeys to be undertaken in both first and second lockdown period i.e. from 25th of March, 2020 to 3rd of May, 2020, in all such cases, a full refund shall be given by the airlines immediately,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had said regarding domestic airlines’ tickets booked directly by the passenger with airlines. Similarly, for international travel when the ticket has been booked on an Indian carrier and the booking is ex-India, it had said, “If the tickets have been booked during the lockdown period for travel within the lockdown period, in all such cases full refund shall be given by the airlines immediately. This amount shall be passed on immediately by the Agent to the passengers, as the case may be.”