In 2009, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair announced that it would charge its passengers one Pound Sterling to use the toilet during the journey! Following massive public outcry, it did abandon the idea, but that’s the extent to which unbundling of air services can go.
So, don’t believe the union ministry of civil aviation when it says that its latest move to allow airlines to unbundle services and charge for them separately is in the interest of consumers or that it’s going to bring down fares! What it’s going to do is to allow airlines to come up with more and more novel ways of extracting money from passengers.
Even before the ministry allowed unbundling of services, some of the airlines have been charging ‘extra’ for various ‘services’ — Rs 50 for giving a printout of the ticket , Rs 100 for selecting your seat at the time of booking, Rs 400 for the front row, to quote a few examples. Now with the government allowing them to charge separately for check-in baggage and preferential seating, consumers will end up paying more and more for their air travel.
Already, some airlines have announced extra charges for preferential seats (window and aisle) and reduced the free baggage allowance to 15 kgs. They have also increased the charges for additional weight. Time will not be far off when there will be no free baggage allowance at all and consumers will have to pay for their check-in baggage.
And after paying through your nose for the baggage, if it gets lost, the compensation that you get will not be adequate even to buy the suitcase, let alone its contents. Because while blithely allowing the airlines to rake in ancillary revenue, the ministry conveniently forgets the abysmally low liability that the airlines incur for loss of check-in baggage under the Carriage by Air Act. In 2009, it revised the compensation provided under the law for international travel but did not do so for domestic travel which continues to remain at Rs 450 a kilogram (loss measured by weight!)
In recent times, passengers have been complaining about valuables removed from check-in baggage. In fact, pilferage of baggage and loss of baggage constitutes the third largest number of complaints (15.26 per cent) received against the aviation sector by the National Consumer Helpline, run by the union ministry of consumer affairs (and managed by the Delhi University).
Similarly, last month, the Delhi Police busted a gang of thieves operating at the inline baggage system department at the Indira Gandhi International airport and recovered a number of electronic items stolen from passengers’ bags. The thieves apparently identified, during scanning, bags with valuables and stole them. It speaks volumes about the security measures in place at the airport and the due diligence carried out before employing people for such sensitive jobs.
So let’s assume that you are travelling by air to attend a family wedding and even pay an additional Rs 1,500 for baggage (for carrying more than 15 kgs). When you reach your destination, you find your most expensive saree, costing Rs 20,000 missing. You lodge a complaint and the airline offers you a grand compensation of Rs 900, calculated at the rate of Rs 450 a kilogram. That’s how well your interests are protected by the civil aviation ministry.
Amrit Lal: Recently, I bought a a walkie-talkie for my son while travelling on a domestic airline. However, it turned out to be defective and the airline is not taking any responsibility for it. What should I do?
The airline cannot escape liability for what it has sold. If it refuses to refund the price or give you a replacement, file a complaint before the consumer court.