With the general elections due in less than a year, the government on Tuesday proposed passenger-friendly measures for increasing compensation for delayed flights, capping cancellation fees, and providing easier check-in processes.
It has also proposed monetary benefits to passengers for missing a connecting flight.
Airlines have opposed the changes and airline executives have said the government needs to address infrastructure constraints before holding airlines responsible for delays and cancellations.
Announcing the passenger charter and DigiYatra initiatives, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said the measures would contribute to hassle-free travel for passengers. The government has asked airlines to earmark seats for differently-abled passengers and hold them till a little before departure.
Under the proposed rules, airlines have to offer the option of full refund to passengers if the flight is delayed for over four hours and the delay is communicated more than 24 hours in advance.
If the flight takes place the day after schedule, the airline will have to offer free hotel accommodation and transfers.
The passenger charter also proposes compensation of up to Rs 20,000 if a passenger misses a connecting flight.
Airlines are opposing the move on the grounds that they should not be held accountable for missed connections if the journeys are on two different PNRs.
Also, for the first time the ministry has proposed rules in the case of delays on tarmac. It said that passengers must be given refreshments if the aircraft was delayed on tarmac for over an hour and must be given the option of not travelling if the delay was more than two hours.
Airlines will also be required to cap cancellation charges, which cannot be higher than the basic fare plus fuel surcharge.
Simultaneously the ministry has proposed an increase in compensation for loss of life and baggage in air accidents. Compensation limits for death or injuries in the case of international and domestic travel will be the same.
The ministry has recommended an increase in liability for both domestic and international travel, with compensations of Rs 1,000-3,000 a kg for loss, delay and damage to bags.
The government has also proposed that free of charge correction in name up to three characters only and within 24 hours of booking.
A flyer should also be allowed a lock-in option for 24 hours (after booking ticket) in which the passenger can cancel or amend the ticket without any charges.
The industry opposed the move, and the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), of which IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and GoAir are members, has written to the government, saying that such rules, coupled with a high fuel price environment, will be result in huge commercial losses.
"Most of the time the default is due to infrastructure constraints at major airports, for which the airline cannot be held liable. In the current scenario when the entire industry is bearing the brunt of high oil prices, increase in compensation can (lead to) financial losses of airlines," the Federation of Indian Airlines said.
“The current level of penalties for airlines is already high and there is no reason to increase it.
After the increases in fuel prices if government hikes compensation they will add to the costs of airlines,” said a senior executive of a private airline.
Full-service carrier Vistara said it provided amenities like free cancellation or change within 24 hours of booking, free change of name, etc. However, it also said some of the changes would be difficult to implement. Experts, however, supported the government, saying the rules should be enforced.
“Consumer protection enhanced with significant compensation for airline service failures. But implementation is key. Educating passengers about rights must be accompanied by an oversight regime, which ensures that airlines comply, " said Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer of aviation consultancy firm CAPA.