Rear Admiral Sues Air India Over Faulty Business Class Seats: District Commission Orders Compensation

Feature and Cover Rear Admiral Sues Air India Over Faulty Business Class Seats District Commission Orders Compensation

When you spend lakhs of rupees for a premium flight ticket on a long-haul flight, the least you can expect is that the airline provides you with a decent seat. However, retired Rear Admiral Anil Kumar Saxena was not so fortunate. Despite paying in lakhs for a return flight from Delhi to Toronto, Saxena was not allotted a proper working seat on either leg of the journey. The airline was unsuccessful in fixing Saxena’s allotted seat during the over 14-hour flight from Delhi to Toronto on June 3, 2023, and similarly on the Toronto to Delhi flight on June 24, 2023. After the unsuccessful attempt to fix the seat, Air India’s crew relocated him to a different seat on the flight. However, the seat he was given did not meet Saxena’s expectations, especially since he had paid a premium price for them. Read below to know what happened with Saxena, how Air India responded, and what the aviation regulator says about such incidents.

What Was the Problem with Air India’s Seats?

The same problem of defective seats occurred on two international flights operated by Air India. Here’s a summary of what happened:

June 3, 2023, Delhi to Toronto:

Admiral Saxena wanted to make sure he had a reclining seat for the long journey, allowing him to sit or lie down comfortably, so he paid a premium price for it. However, the allotted seat malfunctioned as it was not reclining properly. The crew tried to fix the reclining seat but couldn’t. The person responsible for fixing it was asleep for three hours. In the meantime, Saxena had to sit uncomfortably. After an hour of trying to fix the seat, the crew gave up and offered another seat, which Saxena found uncomfortable.

June 24, 2023, Toronto to Delhi:

Saxena again faced the same situation on the return journey from Toronto to Delhi. During this journey, the allotted seat was not functional, and none of the controls for operating the seat were working. The business class seats allotted to Saxena on this more than 14-hour long flight were defective and not reclining/not functioning properly. “Due to which he was compelled to sit in an awkward position, causing backache, inconvenience, sleeplessness for over 14 hours, resulting in fatigue, health issues and backache, etc,” said lawyers representing Saxena in the District Consumer Commission. Saxena raised this issue with Air India over email in June, July, and August of 2023, but received no response. On August 28, 2023, he sent a letter/notice to Air India for a refund with compensation. After this, Air India responded.

How Did Air India Respond to the Formal Complaint?

Air India admitted their mistake and inconvenience faced by Saxena and hence offered the following: Rs 1.18 lakh as a non-transferable travel voucher for the amount equivalent to 75% of the ticket journey Delhi-Toronto-Delhi with one-year validity, and Rs 10,000 as a non-transferable travel voucher for the journey Toronto-Delhi with one-year validity. Saxena rejected the compensation offered and requested the airline refund the ticket’s cost and appropriate compensation. Air India turned this request down and thus Saxena filed a suit against Air India in the South Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

What Did Saxena Demand from Air India?

Saxena filed a suit in the South Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and demanded the following from Air India:

– Refund of ticket amount as admitted by Air India for both routes Delhi-Toronto-Delhi aggregating to Rs 2,36,000/- with 18% p.a from the date of payment, i.e., 04/04/2023.

– Compensation of Rs 1,00,000/- with 18% interest p.a. towards mental agony and Rs 50,000/- towards costs of litigation.

What Did the South Mumbai District Commission Order Air India to Do?

Air India did not respond to the district commission’s notice and was not present at any of the hearings of the case. Hence, the commission passed the order on an ‘ex-parte’ basis. The South Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission found Air India to be providing a deficient service and guilty of practicing unfair trade practices. The commission, via an order dated May 22, 2024, directed the following to Air India and its commercial manager:

– The Respondents (Air India and its commercial manager) to pay jointly and severally the compensation of Rs 80,000 towards mental agony and Rs 20,000 towards litigation cost within 30 days from the receipt of this order.

The district commission considered the evidence presented by Saxena and it revealed that he suffered a lot on the journeys (June 3 and June 24 of 2023). “The seats which have been allotted to the Complainant (Saxena) were defective since the same did not recline properly as a result he faced inconvenience, backache, sleeplessness for over 14 hours. The Respondent (Air India) has provided the other seat to the Complainant, which is also not comfortable while sitting, feeling embracing etc,” as per the order of the district commission.

“There was a deficiency in service on the face of it as admittedly the seat allotted to the complainant was defective and he was shifted to another seat and had suffered inconvenience due to negligence of Air India. There was a clear deficiency in service by Air India as the flight had defective business class seats. Furthermore, despite due service of notice, Air India failed to appear before Consumer Forum and the case was decided ex-parte due to their nonappearance,” says Manisha Karia, Advocate on record, Supreme Court of India.

Does the DGCA Say Anything About Faulty Seats in Flights?

As per Karia, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has time and again imposed penalties on airline companies for not providing compensation to passengers who were made to travel on unserviceable seats. “The guidelines for compensation and reimbursement to the passengers are stipulated in Part IV, Series M, Section 3 – Air Transport of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR). However, DGCA Rules do not categorically provide for the quantum of compensation to be given to the passengers in such cases. There is no provision in the rules and regulations for specific compensation for faulty/defective seats,” she says. Due to the absence of a specific rule for compensating defective seats, passengers have historically resorted to legal action. According to Karia, Singapore Airlines recently had to pay Rs 2 lakh to a passenger from Telangana due to a faulty seat. The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) also directed Air India to pay Rs 1.6 lakh in compensation to a couple who experienced pain from a defective seat on an international flight.

What Is the Duty of Airlines Regarding Seats as Specified by DGCA?

According to Karia, “Rule 53 of The Aircraft Rule, 1937 provides that all materials including the aircraft seat shall conform to approved design specifications and the DGCA has been imposing penalties on the airlines for non-compliance of these Rules.”

Was Air India Fair in Giving Saxena Travel Vouchers with One-Year Validity as Compensation?

Saxena rejected the compensation offer given by Air India (Rs 1.18 lakh and Rs 10,000 travel vouchers with one-year validity). His lawyers said before the district commission, “The said offer has not been accepted on the ground that if the vouchers are not used in one year for the single journey, then the above said offer will become waste.”

“Although the DGCA has framed Rule 53 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, for overseeing the condition of aircraft and has in fact warned airplanes against offering passengers unserviceable seats. However, there is no provision in DGCA Rules for providing compensation to passengers for such deficiency in services regarding faulty seats. Hence, in the present case, it was Air India’s discretion to offer compensation in any manner as it would deem fit and proper as per its internal policies and decisions,” says Amit Kumar Nag, Partner, AQUILAW, a law firm.

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