The ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) on Thursday mandated airlines to fully refund passengers on their domestic and international ticket cancellations, “without [the] levy of a cancellation charge.” These refunds are for tickets purchased between March 25 and April 14 and for travel between March 25 and May 3. These dates correlate with the first (March 25 to April 14) and second lockdown (April 15 to May 3) periods, aimed at containing the spread of Coronavirus in the country.

“The refund shall be made within a period of three weeks from the date of the request of cancellation,” read a note from the ministry. In its directive, it asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to “monitor the compliance” of its advisories. Both international and domestic air travel in the country have been suspended till 11:59 pm of May 3.

It’s, however, puzzling that the government directive read: “If a passenger has booked a ticket during the first lockdown period and the airline has received payment for booking of the air ticket during the first lockdown period for travel during the same period, for both domestic and international air travel.”

“A simply appalling memorandum... How can point 1 ever occur? It assumes bookings [were] made during the first lockdown for travel during the first lockdown period. Was that permitted by MoCA[?],” read a tweet by Bangalore Aviation, an aviation news and analysis website. The tweet was addressed to Usha Padhee, joint secretary in the MoCA.

Airlines have so far been offering passengers credit vouchers for future travel against their cancellation requests, an offer that hasn’t bored well among passengers. Especially, among those who booked international flight tickets and have large sums of their money blocked in a credit voucher.

“We welcome MoCA’s decision requiring airlines to provide the option of a full cash refund for flights booked during the first lockdown period, which have been cancelled. Protecting passenger interests during this difficult period is the right thing to do,” tweeted aviation consultancy firm CAPA India.

“Similarly, flight tickets that are booked during the second lockdown period, for travel from May 4 onwards, should also be eligible for a full cash refund until there is certainty about the date of resumption and the transition schedule that airlines will operate,” read another tweet by CAPA India.

However, the MoCA directive seems to have side-stepped a critical aspect. “Airlines allow pax [passengers] to book air tickets in advance for a service which is rendered in the future. This note does not address concerns of a majority of people who booked flights way in advance for dates which happened to fall under the lockdown periods,” tweeted Vinamra Longani, head of operations for Sarin & Co., an Indian law firm specialising in aircraft leasing and finance.

Even now, as airlines ready themselves for travel after May 4 onwards, many aviation analysts have cautioned passengers not to book tickets, as the lockdown situation is still very fluid.

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