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Airline Not Obliged To Escort Passengers To Boarding Gate: Supreme Court

Missed your flight? You can miss your flight due to various reasons, vital among them is traffic. Consequences of missing flight could be heavy, both in your pocket and time, as they are expensive to purchase and it also muddle with your schedule. However, still people tend to miss their flights so many times. Many a times your airline service provider is responsible but there are instances where passenger himself is liable for such consequence. Recently, Supreme Court has delivered a judgment on this issue. And here we will observe how a passenger is accountable for missing the flight.

In the matter of Indigo Airlines, Kolkata & Anr vs. Kalpana Rani Debbarma & Ors., the Supreme Court held that airlines are not obliged to escort every passenger who has boarding passes to the boarding gate, and passengers are at their own discretion to seek assistance from ground staff. A bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said, the Airlines cannot be blamed for the non-reporting of the passengers at the boarding gate when the boarding gate was finally closed.

In the instant case, the passengers had booked air tickets from Kolkata to Agartala on a flight operated by Indigo. It was contended by the passengers that the flight took off without any information about its departure, even though they had boarding passes. Also, that their request to be accommodated in the next available flight was given no heed. As a result of this, they had to incur additional expenditure for extended stay and were subjected to mental harassment. Therefore, they filed a complaint before the District Forum claiming Rs. 3,77,770 along with an interest at the rate of 12 % per annum.

Indigo contested the claim and stated that the passengers had failed to comply with the conditions of carriage (COC) which stipulated that the boarding gate will be closed 25 minutes prior to the departure time. It was contended that this was in fact not the fault of the airlines, but of the passengers themselves. It was also contended by Indigo that they were not obliged to accommodate the respondents on another flight in light of “Gate No Show” stipulated in the COC. The airline contested this stating ample announcements were made at regular intervals, but the passengers did not report at the boarding gate on time.

The top court observed that it would not be appropriate to cast an obligation on any airlines to delay the departure of an aircraft beyond the scheduled time of the departure and to await late arrival of any passenger, whosoever he/she may be, "howsoever highly or lowly placed".

After boarding pass is issued, the passenger is expected to proceed towards security channel area and head towards specified boarding gate on his own. There is no contractual obligation on the airlines to escort every passenger, after the boarding pass is issued to him at the check-in counter, up to the boarding gate," the bench said. It noted that the airlines issuing boarding passes cannot be made liable for the misdeeds, inaction or so to say misunderstanding caused to the passengers, until assistance is sought from the ground staff of the airlines at the airport well in time.

The bench declined to issue direction on the suggestion of senior advocate Rajiv Dutta, appointed amicus curiae in the case, to all airlines to adopt this practice uniformly. The court said that it will allow the competent authority (DGCA) to consider this issue and after interacting with all the stakeholders, take appropriate decision and issue instructions.

Written by: Ankur Saha, Head- Legal, VOICE

Divya Patwal

VOICE

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