The Supreme Court on Thursday accepted the Directorate General of Civil Aviation recommendations for refunding passengers for airline tickets that were cancelled because of the lockdown enforced to contain the coronavirus, Live Law reported.

The court allowed airline companies to set up a credit shell facility in the names of passengers. If the credit is not used, airlines have to mandatorily refund the ticket money to the passengers by March 31, 2021. The credit scheme is transferable to anyone.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, however, clarified that in cases where tickets were booked through travel agents, the money would be utilised through them and not directly by the passenger.

During the last hearing on September 25, the court had reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking refund for airline tickets booked during the nationwide lockdown. The petitioners argued that the airlines’ decision to not refund the the full amount collected for tickets was “arbitrary” and in violation of the Civil Aviation Requirement issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

On June 13, the court had asked the Centre, airlines and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to work out modalities for refunding of the tickets cancelled because of the coronavirus lockdown.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation then informed the Supreme Court that tickets booked by passengers between March 25 and May 3 for domestic and international air travel will be fully refunded within 15 days. For this, the the DGCA had proposed the credit shell facility instead of an immediate refund given the financial distress of some airlines amid the pandemic.

The DGCA added that these credit shells would only be applicable to passengers and not to travel agents. It was also stipulated that refunds would be applicable for only those flights that were originally booked in India.

The aviation authority has categorised the passengers in three categories:

  1. For those who booked tickets before the lockdown for a period up till May 24, the refund would be governed by the credit shell scheme.
  2. For bookings made during lockdown for travelling during the period of the lockdown, the refund shall be made by airlines immediately “as the airlines were not supposed to book such tickets”.
  3. For bookings that were made for travelling in dates after May 24, the refund would be governed by the Civil Aviation Requirements.

India instituted a lockdown in March, soon after the first coronavirus cases began to emerge in the country. Both domestic and international flights were grounded. The Centre had allowed domestic flight services to resume on May 25, but at only one-third capacity. The cap was later increased to 45% and then to 60%. However, the suspension of international flights to and from the country has been extended till October 31.