Saturday, July 9, 2011

Passengers on delayed low-cost flights should get free meal: SC

NEW DELHI: Low-cost airlines cannot hide behind the "no free meal" clause printed on tickets to refuse food to passengers if the flight gets delayed by three hours.

In an important judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion clause not to provide meals would apply only to passengers who had not boarded the flight and were free to purchase food in the airport.

"It will not apply to passengers who are on board and the delay in flight taking off denies them access to food and water," said a bench of Justices RV Raveendran and AK Patnaik while absolving IndiGo of any wrongdoing in a case of alleged ill-treatment of passengers on a fog-delayed flight in 2007.

"In the extraordinary situation where the passengers are physically under the complete care and control of the airline, as it happens when they have boarded the aircraft and have no freedom to alight, the duty of the airline to protect and care for them, and provide for basic facilitation would prevail over any term of contract excluding any facilitation, except when the carrier itself cannot access food due to emergency situation," the bench said.

"No public utility service can say that it is not bound to care for the health, welfare and safety of the passengers because it is a low cost carrier," said Justice Raveendran, who authored the judgment.

"If for any unforeseen reason, the passengers are required to be on board for a period beyond three hours without the flight taking off, appropriate provision for food, water should be made, apart from providing access to toilets," the bench said.

In case the flight gets inordinately delayed due to unforeseen weather conditions or technical reasons, the carrier must take steps to secure permission from the airport and Air Traffic Controller to take back the onboard passengers to the airport lounge, the court said.

It asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to specify the responsibilities of the airport management and ATC to ensure that no aircraft remained on the tarmac for more than three hours after the closure of boarding.

"If it has to so remain, then permit the passengers to return to the airport lounge from the aircraft, till the aircraft is ready to take off," the SC said asking DGCA to ensure that conditions of carriage of all airlines in India is in consonance with the Civil Aviation Directives.

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