There’s finally a silver lining in the smog for airline passengers in India. This week, a Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission ruled that airlines must compensate passengers for inordinate delays, sudden cancellations and for causing them mental agony and harassment. The judgment, which asked private airline Go Air to pay all passengers of a cancelled flight Rs 15,000, sets an important precedent, and could spell all the difference in making airlines accountable to their customers. At present, it is the hapless passenger who gets the short end of the stick from both the airlines and the airport authorities.
At one end of the spectrum, there are the mushrooming private airlines, which are driven by profits in this growing segment but care little about extending to their passengers even the most basic services. At the other end are airports that can’t cope with this increasing traffic, and the authorities who have issued unending licences to the private airlines without a care for the infrastructure needed to sustain the growth. For reasons ranging from technical snags to shortage of pilots and heavy congestion at airports, flight delays and cancellations have become the norm over the past few years. While bad weather conditions, especially in winter, cannot be helped, airlines are not exempt from blame even here.
Most airlines do not have adequate numbers of CAT III pilots, or those trained to fly in low-visibility conditions. At least one airline has been open about its reluctance to set such safety standards, stating that it did not think it viable to spend the amount needed to make their pilots CAT III compatible. What this means is further disruptions. And let us not even mention the dangers posed to passengers from pilots forced to fly when ill or beyond their flying duty time limit because of the shortage. Punitive action, such as the one just pronounced, that eats into the airline’s image and profits is clearly the only way out.