The controversy involving United Airlines that forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight in Chicago raises questions about overbooking in India.
Overbooking is more common on Indian airlines than you think. Passengers with confirmed tickets have been denied boarding at the last moment in the past. If you have been one of those unlucky few, or even if you haven’t, it might be a good idea to know your rights as a passenger.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s aviation regulator, has said 5,586 domestic fliers in India were not allowed to board and compensation worth around Rs 1562.12 lakh was provided to them in January and February this year.
What is overbooking?
To reduce the possibility of a flight departing with empty seats, airlines generally overbook – selling more seats than available – to a limited extent.
Most airlines use software programmes that suggest selling more than the available number of seats in a flight, based on an algorithm drawn from last-minute cancellations observed earlier.
What does the DGCA say?
If more passengers are expected to report for a flight than the number of seats available on a particular day due to overbooking, airlines can deny boarding even if someone holds a confirmed booking and reports well within the specified time.
If you voluntarily vacate your seat, the airline will offer benefits or facilities at its own discretion. If you are bumped off against your wish, the airline is liable to pay monetary compensation in accordance with the DGCA’s provisions.
The DGCA rule – Civil Aviation Requirements Section 3 Series M Part IV – spells out what needs to be done.
The ministry for civil aviation in 2016 proposed that an amount equal to 200% of booked one-way basic fair plus airline fuel charge subject to maximum of Rs 10,000 has to be paid to passengers in case an airline arranges alternate flight that is to depart after one hour but within 24 hours of the booked scheduled departure.
How does it work?
Mark D Martin, founder and CEO of Dubai-based aviation consultancy Martin Consulting, said in the case of overbooking, airlines usually compensate passengers with tickets on another flight departing around the same time as all the airlines have an “internal system of cooperation”.
“If there are no other flights available at that time, the passenger is compensated with accommodation in a hotel and given a seat on the next flight,’ the former vice-president of SpiceJet explained. “The last resort would be to give monetary compensation.”
The aviation consultant said there was no proper roadmap if such an issue took place in India.
“The United Airlines’ incident will have a rippling effect on aviation industries around the world. However, in India, these situations don’t arise because, in the case of overbooking, passengers are denied boarding before they get on the plane,” Martin said.
He said the United Airlines handled the situation in a very bad way and that airlines have to accommodate the passengers as far as possible and try to facilitate a pleasant journey no matter what.
“Even if a passenger is denied boarding once on the flight, India does not have as stringent laws as the US on aviation safety. We let people off the hook easily, as was seen in the case of MP Ravindra Gaikwad,” he added.
How not to get off the list?
Some dos and donts according to aviation experts:
* Once you book your ticket online, confirm your reservation with the airline.
* Check for load figures – how many seats have been already booked, the status of reservation and estimated.
* Show up well before time especially for peak hour or peak-season flights.
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