Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewscompanies

Lockdown Blues | Flyers stumped by lack of clarity by airlines on bookings and refunds

With increasing murmurs about the nationwide lockdown getting extended, flyers are becoming increasingly edgy.

April 20, 2020 / 11:06 AM IST
 
 
live
  • bselive
  • nselive
Volume
Todays L/H
More

With his travel plans jeopardised following the COVID-19 outbreak, a distraught Pradeep Kumar had just two simple questions for the call centre employee of an airline.

"If I don't travel in the next one year, will you refund my ticket? Also, you say I will have to pay the difference in the fare. I agree, if the fare is higher, I will pay the difference. But if the fare is lower, then will you refund me the remaining amount?"

Both the questions evoked a similar answer from the airline's call centre employee - "I cannot predict such things....can you please mail us?"

Similar is the predicament of thousands of flyers, whose plans have gone awry as the nation went on a lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19.

Kumar, a resident of Kottayam district in Kerala, had planned to fly to Abu Dhabi, along with his wife and son, and spend a fortnight with his daughter's family before returning home.

Close

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

View more
How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

View more
Show

But the flights - Air India Express and IndiGo - were cancelled as travel restrictions kicked in. While initially he was told that the tickets will be refunded, "their policy changed and I was told that my ticket fare will be saved for future travel. But then I travel seldom, and don't plan to fly again for over a year," says Kumar, who was hoping to celebrate Vishu, which falls on April 14, with his daughter.

Also Read: Airlines ask leasing companies for rental holiday, but lessors play hard

The lockdown effect

With increasing murmurs about the nationwide lockdown getting extended, flyers are becoming increasingly edgy, taking to social media platforms to enquire about flights booked for April 15 and later.

But instead of getting a direct answer, they are being asked to keep checking airline websites for flight status.


The airline answered:

Other airlines, including GoAir and SpiceJet, have also received similar queries. Some passengers also complained about their flights being cancelled. One passenger noted that even if airlines do operate flights, getting to airports in some of the cities, including in Mumbai, would be difficult.

Airlines, on the other hand, point out that they are merely following government orders.

Also Read: COVID-19 has triggered the early retirement of old planes  

"The government has said that the lockdown is till April 14. Accordingly, we need to plan our operations in advance," said a senior executive of a budget airline.

All the carriers, barring Air India, have been accepting bookings for domestic travel from April 15. Many of them have opened bookings for international travel from May 1.

To be sure, the government has said that a decision hasn't been taken on allowing airlines to start service from April 15.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri himself clarified on Twitter: "News about the resumption of passenger flights in a staggered manner from April 15, is mere speculation. The correct position is spelt out in my tweet of 2nd April 2020," he had tweeted on April 5.

On April 2, he had said: "The current lockdown on both international and national passenger flights is till April 15. A decision to restart the flights after this period remains to be taken. If required, we will have to access the situation, on a case-by-case basis."

But then, as an executive from the airline said, "It is not as if we have been asked not to accept bookings."

So who it to be blamed for the uncertainty that clouds over air travel?

Yeshwant Shenoy, a lawyer and aviation safety activist, said that everyone has to share the blame.

"A lot has been written about booking and cancellations during these times. And customers planning to travel from April 15, have access to information and they know the ground situation. So it's not a smart thing to book at the moment," says Shenoy.

And not that airlines can't be blamed, adds the lawyer. "The airlines well know that none of the customers will take them to court for a Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000-ticket, for cancelling a flight or rescheduling it," said Shenoy.

Now everyone's eyes and ears, including that of airlines and customers, are on the address by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will address the nation on April 14. "We will get more clarity after his address," is how an airline executive put it.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Apr 13, 2020 09:06 pm

stay updated

Get Daily News on your Browser
Sections
ISO 27001 - BSI Assurance Mark