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Travel Portals Must Refund Covid Lockdown Airfare by Next Week

On Wednesday, the government issued a directive to online travel aggregators, compelling them to expedite the processing of pending refunds related to air ticket bookings during the COVID-19 lockdown by the third week of November. This action comes in response to the extensive lockdown measures imposed nationwide in the wake of the pandemic, commencing on March 25, 2020, and the subsequent suspension of scheduled commercial flight services for a period.

The Consumer Affairs Ministry convened a meeting with online travel aggregators on the same day to address concerns detrimental to consumer interests within the travel sector. Chaired by Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh, the meeting prominently addressed the issue of outstanding refunds for tickets booked during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

In an official statement, it was declared that travel aggregators have been instructed to disburse pending refunds arising from the COVID-19 lockdown by the conclusion of the third week of November. The statement further warned, “The travel platforms were informed that they should process the pending refunds by the third week of November, pursuant to which CCPA may initiate appropriate legal proceedings before the Supreme Court including filing of a contempt petition against the defaulting platforms.”

Additionally, the possibility of establishing an Ombudsman to facilitate timely resolution of consumer grievances was discussed. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Department of Consumer Affairs were proposed to collaborate in defining the modalities for its implementation. Another proposition was to integrate the National Consumer Helpline with the Air Sewa Portal to enhance the effectiveness of consumer complaint resolution.

The ministry cited a substantial volume of consumer complaints concerning the refund of air ticket bookings during the COVID-19 lockdown period, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on October 1, 2020, in the case of Pravasi Legal Cell vs. Union of India.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) proactively addressed these complaints by issuing notices to six online portals and five travel agencies, instructing them to promptly refund in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order. The online portals included EaseMyTrip, Yatra, MakeMyTrip, HappyEasyGo, ClearTrip, and Ixigo. The travel agencies implicated were Thomas Cook, Kesari Tours, Veena World, Neem Holidays, and Mango Holidays.

Thanks to the decisive actions of CCPA, Ixigo and Thomas Cook have successfully refunded all amounts to consumers. Ixigo, in particular, refunded the full amount of Rs 46.68 crore. However, MakeMyTrip has refunded Rs 978 crore, EaseMyTrip Rs 232.63 crore, Clear Trip Rs 158.27 crore, Yatra Rs 22.85 crore, and Mango Holidays Rs 4.13 lakh. Notably, HappyEasyGo has been unresponsive, even after several reminders, and the total amount refunded by the company remains undisclosed.

Kesari Tours, Mango Holidays, and Veena World have filed petitions in court challenging the orders to issue refunds to consumers, issued by the CCPA. At the same time, Neem Holidays is currently under investigation by the CCPA.

CCPA Chairperson Nidhi Khare shed light on the commonly observed ‘dark patterns’ on online travel platforms during the meeting, which was attended by representatives from major travel platforms such as MakeMyTrip, Yatra, ClearTrip, and consumer activists.


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