M. Shreesha, Member
Challenge in this Revision Petition under Section 21(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (in short “the Act”) is to the order dated 27.12.2017 passed by the West Bengal State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (in short “the State Commission”) in First Appeal No. A/1367/2015. By the impugned order, the State Commission has allowed the Appeal setting aside the order of the District Forum and directed the Revision Petitioner (hereinafter referred to as “Indigo”) to refund of 5,620 (9140-3520) within 45 days along with compensation of 50,000 with default interest @ 9% p.a. if the amount is not paid within 45 days.
2. The facts in brief are that the Complainant purchased confirmed Air Tickets on 24.11.2012 for his journey from Kolkata to Chennai by flight No. 6E 271 on 16.12.2012 at 6.30 a.m. and Flight No. 6E 277 from Chennai to Kolkata on 18.12.2012 at 8.30 p.m. These tickets were purchased by using International Debit and Shopping Card of State Bank of India and an amount of 9,140 was debited from the Complainant’s account. On the scheduled date of journey i.e. 16.12.2012, the Complainant had reported in time at the check in counter of Indigo at Kolkata Airport, produced the relevant journey ticket together with his photo ID card for issuance of the boarding pass. But Indigo personnel did not issue the boarding pass for flight No. 6E 271 on the ground that in addition to the mandatory requirement of Photo ID Card and the journey ticket, he had to produce his credit card by which his ticket was purchased. The Complainant was shocked with such a stand taken by Indigo and appealed to them that he does not have any credit card and the tickets were purchased by International Debit and Shopping Card and not through credit card and to issue the boarding pass. Indigo showed a clause incorporated in the ticket stating ‘customers who have paid for the booking using credit cards are additionally required to present the credit card or a photocopy of the same at the time of check in’. Though the Complainant requested that the tickets were purchased through debit card and hence cannot produce a credit card, which he did not possess, Indigo personnel did not adhere to his request and insisted that he should produce a credit card which he did not have. They did not consider the debit card, which was placed before them by the Complainant and did not issue the boarding pass. Hence the Complainant was forced to stay back at Kolkata and his return journey had to be cancelled. Thereafter an amount of 5,620 was also deducted and an amount of 3,520 was withheld which could be adjusted for any further journey to be undertaken within 12 months.
3. It was averred that the Complainant being a religious man cherished his long time desire to visit Tirupati Mandir on the very first day of Bengali winter month (first day of the month Pousha), which is very auspicious for the Complainant and his family to perform ‘Mannat’ at Tirupati i.e. on 17.12.2012. Therefore, the Complainant purchased the tickets much in advance on 23.11.2012 itself and the tour plan was chalked out accordingly, but his long cherished religious commitment remained unfulfilled. It was averred that it was extremely difficult to get leave as the Complainant is a manager of a nationalized Bank and he had to suffer mental agony, loss of prestige at the check in counter and harassment at the airport apart from the pain of reporting at 4.30 a.m. considering he is 60 years of age. Thereafter, a meeting took place on 13.3.2013 at the office of the Assistant Director, Consumer Affairs and Indigo agreed to refund the cost of the ticket but without any compensation. Vexed with their attitude, the Complainant approached the District Forum seeking a direction to Indigo to pay a sum of 1,00,000 towards compensation, unfair trade practice and deficiency of service and also for refund of the cost of ticket and other reliefs.
4. Indigo filed their Written Version stating that the Complaint should be dismissed at the threshold as the Complainant did no adhere to the “Conditions of Carriage” which constituted a binding contract between the Complainant and Indigo. All the bookings generated for Indigo’s flight are governed by Indigo’s fare rules and Conditions of Carriage and it is pertinent to mention herein that Indigo Conditions of Carriage that are available from Airport Counters or www.goindigo.in as stated above are contractually binding upon the parties. The relevant terms of the said “Conditions of Carriage” as on the date of booking are reproduced hereunder:
“4.1 General Provisions:
The booking (and the resultant PNR data generated thereafter) constitutes prima facie evidence of the contract of carriage between the Carrier and the Customer named on the Booking. Indigo will provide carriage only to the Customer(s) named in the Booking, and appropriate identification proof needs to be produced at the time of travel.
Customers using our Website and/or travelling with IndiGo agree to the Terms and Conditions that are available on our Website or on request at the airport.
IndiGo accepts Master Card, American Express and VISA at the Indigo call centre, on our Website, and http://mobile.goindigo.in. Customers should carry the credit card, or a copy of the credit card duly signed by the card holder, at the time of check-in.
Debit cards of select banks (both Indian and International) are also accepted on our Website. The usage of such cards is also subject to all the terms and conditions applicable to credit cards.
Prior to travel, the customer must present all exit, entry, health and any other documents required by law, regulation, order, demand or other governmental requirement, and permit indigo to take and retain copies thereof. IndiGo reserves the right to refuse carriage if the Customer does not comply with these requirements, or their travel documents do not appear to be in order, or who does not permit IndiGo to take and retain copies thereof.”
5. It was pleaded that the officials at Kolkata airport were constrained to deny the Complainant Boarding as he had failed to comply with the terms and Conditions of Carriage. It was pleaded that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Interglobe Aviation Ltd. v. N. Satchidanand, III (2011) CPJ 1 (SC)=V (2011) SLT 255=(2011) 7 SCC 463 has laid down as follows:
“The e-tickets do not contain the complete conditions of carriage but incorporate the conditions of carriage by reference. The interested passengers can ask the airline for a copy of the contract of carriage or visit the web-site and ascertain the same. Placing the conditions of carriage on the web-site and referring to the same in the e-ticket and making copies of conditions of carriage available at the airport counters for inspection is sufficient notice in regard to the terms of conditions of the carriage and will bind the parties. The mere fact that a passenger may not read or may not demand a copy does not mean that he will not be bound by the terms of contract of carriage. We cannot therefore, accept the finding of the High Court that the term relating to exclusive jurisdiction should be ignored on the ground that the passengers would not have read it.”
6. Prior to filing of the Complaint, a settlement by way of mediation was preferred by the Complainant which wound up unsuccessfully on 13.3.2013. The amount of 3,250 was paid back to the Complainant on 16.12.2012 and an e-mail on 14.1.2013, was sent to him with a request to fix a convenient time to contact him but the Complainant did not respond. It was averred that the attempt of the Complainant to differentiate between the payments made through credit card and debit card is untainable as he had failed to produce the debit card which was used to make payments towards booking of the tickets and therefore there is no deficiency of service or unfair trade practice on their behalf.
7. The District Forum based on the evidence adduced dismissed the Complaint observing as follows:
“O.Ps. had entered their appearance in this case by filing w/v and denied all the material allegations labelled against them and prayed for dismissal of the case. Learned Lawyer of O.Ps. in the course of argument submitted that the case has got no merit and the same is liable to be dismissed.
It appears from the record that prior to filing the instant case the mediation proceeding was preferred by complainant which was unsuccessfully winded up on 13.3.2003. It is also submitted O.P. that an amount of Rs. 3,520 was paid back to complainant on 16.12.2012 and complainant has suppressed the information for ulterior reason. It appears from the record that complainant failed to comply with the terms of conditions of carriage as he failed to produce the copy of debit card which was used to make payment towards booking of the tickets and payment through debit card is subject to the terms and conditions of carriage as applicable to credit card. We find that complainant received Rs. 3,520 after deduction of Rs. 5620 out of total amount of Rs. 9,140 i.e. purchase of tickets value.
In view of findings above and on perusal of the entire materials on record we find that complainant failed to substantiate and prove his case and is not entitled to relief.”
8. Aggrieved by the said order the Complainant preferred an Appeal before the State Commission, which was allowed observing as follows:
“No doubt, airline officials are mandated to implement airline/aviation rules to their true perspective. However, in the name of implementing such rules, if on resorts to excesses, thereby cause inconvenience to bona fide passengers, that is not acceptable. Here, the issue was far far serious—thanks to the unyielding zeal of Duty Officers, a bona fide passenger could not undertake his scheduled journey which ostensibly put a spanner to all his planning besides causing financial loss to him.
The question survives, whether such rigidity on the part of airline officials was all that so necessary. We do not think so. The ticket was purchased nearly a month ago. In case requisite money did not reach the airline’s coffers, it would certainly be detected by then resulting in cancellation of the tickets and system information got updated accordingly. That the system did not denote any adverse remark itself was testimony of the fact that payment was successfully made by the Appellant through his debit card. That apart, merely by having a glimpse of the credit card or photocopy thereof, one cannot instantly figure out, whether payment had been successfully made or not. There was virtually no need to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Debarring a passenger from boarding aircraft is a serious matter, which requires extreme caution and sensitive handling of the matter. One cannot be debarred from boarding a flight at the drop of a hat.
It was a confirmed ticket. From the voter I-Card, the identity of the Appellant got established. Since there was no adverse remark in the system, it was obvious that payment was not an issue. Despite all these, such inflexibility on the part of airline officials was totally uncalled for.
It requires no emphasis that to err is human. It is needed sad, although it became apparent that Appellant’s ignorance resulted in such goof up and that it was not intentional, Officials of the Respondent still refused to relent. Being human being, officials or Respondent cannot always approach issues from mechanical perspective; lest it impart gross injustice to a bona fide passenger.
As it turns out, because of the irrational attitude of the officials of Respondent, a bona fide passenger was deprived of this legitimate due. The Respondent, thus, cannot shrink its responsibility for the harassment, mental stress and agony, financial loss of the Appellant.
We, therefore, deem it fit and proper to allow this Appeal.”
9. Learned Counsel appearing for the Revision Petitioner vehemently contended that the State Commission has erred in not appreciating that the Complainant did not comply with the mandatory check in requirements as per Indigo Conditions of Carriage by not producing the debit card or signed copy thereof through which the booking was made. He further argued that for reasons best known to the Complainant, he had failed to produce the debit card or a copy thereof and that an amount of Rs. 3,520 was already refunded to the Complainant and hence there was no deficiency of service on their behalf. Learned Counsel also drew our attention to the subject ticket which shows the details regarding purchase of tickets using credit cards as hereunder:
“Customers who have paid for their bookings using credit cards are additionally required to present the credit card or a photocopy of the credit card at the time of check-in.”
10. The Complainant argued that despite repeated requests that the ticket was purchased by a debit card and not by a credit card and having furnished the debit card still Indigo personnel at the Kolkata Airport refused to accept the debit card, and did not allow him to board the flights.
11. On a pointed query, to the Counsel appearing for the Revision Petitioner that whether this information regarding the mandatory production of the credit card or a copy thereof to be shown to Indigo personnel at the counter where boarding passes are issued is displayed prominently, he submitted that the entire information is available on their website and also in the copy of the ticket. On another pointed query that if the ticket is purchased by another family member by their credit card or debit card if the copy of the same was also ought to be produced by the passenger, he answered in the affirmative.
12. A perusal of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding production of the Credit Card/Debit Card at the time of Check-In, it was stated as follows:
Q. Are debit cards accepted on booking on IVRs?
Ans. No currently we accept credit card for booking on IVRs.
Q. What if I want to make a payment on the website through my VISA Debit Card?
Ans. Many debit cards can also be used as credit card on our website thereby increasing the convenience of making payments for your IndiGo bookings. Be sure to register them using Verified by Visa with your respective bank as well.
Additionally, under ‘Check-In’ it is stated as follows:
Q. What is required to enter the airport terminal and check-in at the counter?
Ans. Travel within India: To enter the airport terminal and check-in at the IndiGo Counter, each passenger must provide a printout of his/ her itinerary along with a valid photo identity
Important information: In addition to valid photo identification, passenger(s) may be required to present the credit/debit card or a photo copy of card used to pay for their booking, at check-in.
13. Even in the Conditions of Carriage, Passenger and Baggage/Indigo under ‘Bookings-General Provisions, Changes and Cancellations’ it is stated that Indigo accepts Dinner Club, MasterCard, VISA, Amex and Rupay cards at the Indigo call centre and on our Website and Mobile native applications for Android, IOS and Windows devices. Customer should carry the credit card, or a copy of the credit card duly signed by the card holder, at the time of check-in. Debit cards of select banks (both Indian and International) are also accepted. The usage of these cards for payment is governed by the terms and conditions of the respective bank or company issuing such card, as the case may be. Indigo does not accept personal cheques towards Booking payments. In the instant case, the fact remains that it is the case of the Complainant that he had the original debit card with him and never possessed a credit card and that the personnel had insisted on production of credit card which he never had and denied him boarding. The Complainant also filed his Affidavit by way of evidence with respect to this submission. We hold that there was no violation of any terms of the Conditions of Carriage by the passenger, but yet he was denied Boarding. It was only on 16.12.2012 that an amount of Rs. 3,5
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20 was said to be refunded after six months to the Complainant after deducting Rs. 5,620. 14. Admittedly, the endorsement “CC not verified” clearly substantiates the stand of the Complainant that a Credit Card was indeed insisted upon when the ticket was purchased by a debit card and he did not even possess a credit card for him to have furnished the same to Indigo personnel. Such a rigid attitude of the personnel to a bona fide passenger and further when admittedly the Complainant made genuine efforts to settle the issue by mediation, the conduct of Indigo in deducting Rs. 5,620 and refunding Rs. 3,520 after six months is deprecated. It is strongly recommended that the Airlines display the instructions regarding production of photocopy of the credit/debit card in the event of booking of tickets made by credit card/ debit card, prominently at the Check-In Counter and also keep the passengers, who purchase the tickets online, specifically informed, in order to avoid causing any inconvenience or mental agony by denying a bona fide passenger, his or her Boarding Pass. 15. Having gone through the material on record, we are of the considered view that Indigo personnel refused to consider the debit card, which the Complainant had with him and had unfairly not allowed him to board the flight whereby, causing mental agony and inconvenience to the Complainant, who wanted to fulfil his commitment of going to Tirupati at a particular auspicious time to complete his ‘Mannat”, for which the State Commission has rightly awarded a reasonable compensation of Rs. 50,000 and refund of the amount paid. We do not see any illegality or infirmity in the order of the State Commission and hence this Revision Petition is dismissed with cost of R. 10,000 to be paid to the Complainant. Revision Petition dismissed.