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Spoilt My Holiday

The Agent Spoilt My Holiday

The Agent Spoilt My Holiday

By the time this magazine copy is in your hands, many of you could be in a festive mood and planning your winter vacations. Some of you could already be bargaining with publishers of those holiday-package ads that come with visuals of stunning landscapes and cruise ships. Read on to know how empowered you are as a holiday package consumer. 

Dr Sheetal Kapoor

Under the consumer protection law, you have the right to expect and get what you deserve from the holiday that you booked and paid for. The tour operator or the travel agency through whom you book your package holiday is liable for all the services – including cab hire, hotel accommodation and flights – that he offers in the package. 

Also, if your holiday gets spoilt by the tour operator for any reasons, including wrong transport, sub-standard hotel, unhealthy meals, issuing ticket without seat, last-minute overcharge or any other such breach of trust, then you are eligible to challenge this malpractice at consumer redressal forums as well as the court of law. 

However, even though the law stands by your side, it is applicable only when your holiday has been spoilt and then you go complaining about the agent or the agency. Hence, prevention, of course, is the only way to save your holiday. It is recommended that you choose your travel agency carefully and double-check your tickets as well as accommodations booked by the travel agent. Call the airline, railways or cruise companies to confirm your tickets are in your name and the rooms too are reserved for the right date and time in the right person’s name. 

In this article, we bring forth some of the cases where consumers have faced problems and the judgement of the consumer courts in that regard. 

Value to Match Price
Section 2 (1) (o) of Consumer Protection Act includes in its scope the provision of facilities related to travel and transport. Consumer of services is any person who hires/pays for any service provided by a person/firm/company that benefits by selling that service. The service provider is liable to give appropriate value of the price charged for a particular service. Interestingly, despite reluctance and resistance from railways departments, they too fall under the purview of Consumer Protection Act.

Cruising Nightmares
With popularity of cruises due to their reduced rates, unscrupulous travel promoters are succeeding in cheating people with the promise of huge discounts. When you get an unsolicited call that you have won a ‘free trip’, you should investigate thoroughly.

Common complaints about this type of free or discount cruise offer include:
Hidden fees: Once you book a cruise, double-check hidden charges such as port fees, taxes, registration fees, service charges and other surcharges that the agent may not tell you about.

Different amenities: Once you arrive on the cruise ship, you find that it lacks the features you were promised.
Not free after all: Sometimes the promoters of ‘a free cruise’ ask you to pay extra fees immediately on arrival at the ship and that too through credit card.

What Can You Do? 

  • Cruise offers that come through unsolicited calls or by spam mails are more likely to be fraudulent. Do not think twice before saying ‘not interested’ on the phone and unsubscribe from the spam mails. Don’t let them pressurize you.
  •  Whenever possible, purchase cruise services from agencies that are genuine and have a credible name. Best is if they are recommended by friends or family.
  • Take your time and do not be lured by ‘pay now and get discount’ offers. If you are pressurized to make a quick decision, chances of fraud are more.
  • Get all the details in writing, duly signed by the authorized person from the agency or the travel company. Insist on a complete description of the cruise – accommodation type, food quality and frequency as well as the cruise ship type. 
  • Check out similar tour packages with other legitimate travel agencies and service providers.
  •  It is always better to pay by cheque (many may not accept it) or credit card to keep record of payments. Never pay by cash, even if they try luring you on the pretext of tax benefits.
  •  If you encounter problems during the cruise, lodge a complaint with the cruise company/agency in writing and get a copy signed from them as proof of receipt of complaint. Remember: if you complain after the cruise is over, your chances of claim or legal assistance will be bleak.

A FEW CASES WORTH NOTING
Overbooked Flight

Harpreet Singh in his complaint to district consumer forum said that despite having a confirmed ticket of Air India issued by a travel agent, he was denied boarding at the airport. The district forum held that there was deficiency in service and awarded Rs 15,000 as compensation, in addition to Rs 4,000 for mental agony and physical harassment and Rs 1,000 for litigation costs. The forum also held that in case the amount was not paid within one month from the date of receipt of the order, it would carry interest at the rate of nine per cent per annum. 

Aggrieved by this order, both Air India and the guilty travel agent filed separate appeals in the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Both these appeals were dismissed by the state commission with cost of Rs 250 each.

Air India filed another appeal at national commission, where two points were raised. Firstly, the travel agent was not an agent of Air India. He was the agent of International Air Transport Association (IATA). Secondly, the ticket was not re-confirmed by the passenger. 

Both these points were considered not substantial as the agent was the accredited agent of IATA, of which Air India is a member. Air India’s argument that ‘it should not suffer for the fault of the agent’ was considered against the basic principles of law – it was particularly against the provisions of the Contract Act. Hence, Air India was held liable for the negligence of its agent.

The forum also held that there was no question of any re-confirmation when travel agent had issued a ticket with confirmed status. Thus, the national commission dismissed the revised petition of Air India and held it guilty for deficiency in service. So the next time an airline says that it has no seats although you have a confirmed ticket and have reported to the airport well in time, you can file a claim for compensation. 

The director general of civil aviation (DGCA) has stipulated guidelines that if a passenger is denied boarding, s/he is entitled to Rs 5,000 as compensation for flights of 1,500 kilometres or less, and to Rs 8,000 for longer distance in domestic flights. Similarly, for international flights covering distance over 35,000 kilometres, compensation is Rs 12,000. This is, of course, after the refund of the ticket 
amount. 

The next time an airline says it has no seats although you have a confirmed ticket and have reported to the airport well in time, you can file a claim for compensation. You are entitled to Rs 5,000 as compensation for flights of 1,500 kilometres or less, and to Rs 8,000 for longer distance in domestic flights. This is after the refund of the ticket amount.

Negligence in Safety
In another case, removal of ladder of an aircraft while disembarking by the passenger amounted to deficiency in service. In the case of Station Manager, Indian Airlines Vs Dr Jiteswar Ahir, the national commission held that removal of ladder while a passenger was disembarking, leading to injury to the passenger, amounted to deficiency in service. The complainant, after he was seated on the plane, was intimated by announcement that part of his luggage was lying on the ground unidentified. He moved towards the door and finding that the ladder was in place, tried to get down. But before he could get his entire body on the ladder, the ladder was moved. The passenger fell and sustained injuries. In his complaint, the passenger demanded compensation of Rs 10 lakh from the airline. The airline was willing to pay Rs 40,000, which was the maximum amount payable under Carriage by Air Act, 1972. 

The state commission ordered a compensation of Rs 4 lakh and Rs 1 lakh for mental agony and distress plus litigation costs. This order of the state commission was later upheld by the national commission.

Foreign Object in Food 
When Ragini bit the light vada served on-board her plane, something sharp bit her palate. Her husband took the picture and this was used as evidence against the airline. The passenger was awarded a compensation of Rs 25,000 for getting hurt while swallowing food served on-board Indian Airlines. 

The food served by airlines or super-fast trains is not provided gratis. The provision of food is one of the amenities provided to passengers in return for payment of fare for the journey. It forms an essential part of the service rendered by the airlines/super-fast trains for consideration received by it in the form of price charged for the ticket. 

Loss of Luggage
When the complainant’s luggage was stolen from the reserved compartment of a train, the railway authorities were held liable for the loss and asked to compensate for the same. Railways are responsible not only for the loss/destruction of luggage booked under it – for which receipt has been issued – but also for the loss of jewellery on the body of the
person.

Dr Sheetal Kapoor, associate professor, Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi