The Supreme Court on Friday said it will consider the Centre’s suggestion of transferable refund vouchers for flights cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, PTI reported. The court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking refund for airline tickets booked during the nationwide lockdown.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and the Director General of Civil Aviation, told a three-judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan that transferrable refund vouchers can be issued to passengers, which can be used by travel agents who had booked tickets for the flights that were cancelled later.
“If the travel agents can use the vouchers of the passengers, then it is a fair enough suggestion,” the court said.
Mehta also clarified the Centre’s stand that the credit shell facility could not be availed by travel agents who booked tickets during lockdown, Bar and Bench reported. “So far as travel agents are concerned, we cannot regulate them,” he added. “We don’t have control over it. But suggestion is that a passenger can use the credit shell only through the agent.”
The solicitor general told the court that anybody can be a travel agent and the government cannot control their contractual obligations with passengers. Justice R Reddy, part of the bench, questioned Mehta if the money will be credited to the agent’s account if the voucher or credit shell is not used till deadline.
“We can recognise two agencies because they are recognisable – passengers and airlines,” Mehta responded. “We have done our best to ensure that the passenger either gets the money back or gets the voucher which is transferable.”
He also said that a passenger may surrender the ticket and travel agents can sell the tickets to others, but ordering the refund for all passengers would not be good for the airlines.
Senior advocate Pallav Sisodia raised the concerns of travel agents who had made advanced air bookings for their clients using their own capital. “Insolvency of airline cannot be saved at the expense of our insolvency,” he said, adding that it would be better if the vouchers of the passengers were made transferrable.
The court told the advocate that if the voucher is not used by passengers, then the money would be deposited in the travel agent’s account. Sisodia pointed out that they would have to wait till March 2021 for the refund.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Indigo, said that he has no problem with the arrangement proposed by the government as the company has thousands of employees and the pandemic has affected the airline business. Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for GoAir, also told the court that airlines were facing massive losses and have “frozen working capital” due to the coronavirus crisis.
“But that is your airline’s problem, how can you hold up passengers’ money,” Bhushan questioned.
Datar said March 2021 is an “unrealistic deadline” and sought relaxation for airlines. “We are not saying we won’t refund,” he added.
The court told Datar that the government has given time till March next year to refund the money and if the airline wants more time then it needs to approach them.
The judges reserved the verdict in the case, saying they would take the suggestions into account.