AI starts compensating flyers for 49-hour delay

MUMBAI: After initially expressing “regret” and refusing to accept any liability, has relented and paid a compensation of €600( approx Rs 47,700) each to several passengers for the delay in its London to Mumbai flight on May 28. Engineering issues had been blamed for the over two-day delay.

The compensation was paid as per European Union regulations. It is a significant development as in India, only a small percentage of aggrieved passengers seek compensation. Under the Indian aviation regulator’s norms, airlines are bound to compensate passengers for flight cancellations or denied boarding. But most passengers don’t claim the relief, and the Indian airline industry saves about $100 million in unpaid compensation annually, aviation sector experts said.

In the Air India case, the first response by the debt-ridden national carrier to passengers’ mails seeking compensation under European Union regulations was “regret”, stating that the airline will be unable to accept liability. Air India’s flight AI-130 on May 28 was delayed by 49 hours due to technical problems of its B777 aircraft.

Under EU regulation 261/2004, passengers aboard any flight originating from Europe are entitled to a compensation of up to €600 if their flight lands at the scheduled destination more than three hours late. AI gave each passenger a letter stating that the flight was delayed due to technical reasons and it was aware of its obligation under the above-mentioned EU regulation. But later, in a “final reply” to some passengers, AI offered its apologies and nothing more, blaming the delay on “extraordinary circumstances”. However, technical defect with aircraft does not qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.

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Ankur Jain, co-founder of Instalocate, the company that helped several AI-130 passengers get the compensation, said, “We went through multiple cycles of follows and then finally engaged our legal partners in the UK to help our clients/ passengers get compensation. A total of 55 received compensation, 30 others are in process. We’re still working on about 45 cases wherein AI has denied liability.” These 45 passengers had boarded from US airports and not from Europe. London was their transit stop, but since their flight didn’t originate in Europe, AI has argued that the EU regulations don’t apply to them.

Then there are passengers like Heather Gupta, who wrote directly to Air India. She has also received compensation. “I decided that I wanted to go directly to the airline as they were legally liable to pay me compensation. I didn’t want to go through a third party. Two more British passengers who wrote directly to the airline were also paid compensation,” Gupta said. An Air India spokesperson said the compensations were paid as per UK norms.

“Many passengers believe they can’t claim compensation as the airline concerned has already provided them with hotel/food/alternate flight, etc. Others are not aware of their rights or are plain lazy or busy to seek compensation,” Jain said, adding that only about 7-8% passengers actually claim their compensation.

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