The Chandigarh State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has imposed a fine of Rs 70 lakh on Lufthansa Airlines, British Airways and a travel agency as compensation and litigation cost after a 60-year-old woman had to spend a night in the lock-up of Denmark's Copenhagen Airport after her flights from San Francisco to Delhi re-routed.
In its judgment on Wednesday, the commission said that if a passenger is detained publicly at an airport, it amounts to disgrace and will lower the reputation of the detainee. In fact, the arrest and detention without the detainee's fault and due to sheer negligence of the airlines require that an exemplary cost be imposed, the commission stated.
The passenger, Harsharn Kaur Dhaliwal, had booked a round-trip from New Delhi to San Francisco through Chandigarh-based Surya Travels and Associates, with Swiss Air and Lufthansa for the outbound journey via Zurich, and return journey via Frankfurt. She left from Delhi on January 18, 2018, and claimed that she was not provided diabetic food and a wheelchair.
She further alleged that while returning on March 19, 2018, she boarded a Lufthansa flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt and was in the plane for about three hours but it could not take off, after which she was told to de-board the plane and collect her belongings. She alleged that on de-boarding, she was not provided with a wheelchair and it was difficult for her to locate and collect her luggage. She, however, managed to call her son to the airport and collect the luggage.
She further stated that after this, Lufthansa Airlines re-routed her journey from San Francisco to New Delhi via London on British Airways instead, all without consulting her. According to the new arrangement, the first leg of her journey was from San Francisco to London. From there, she had to fly to Copenhagen in Denmark, and then, by Air India, from Copenhagen to New Delhi.
However, the flight from San Francisco arrived late at Heathrow Airport in London and she missed the connecting flight from London to Copenhagen, which had already departed by then. She was then told to board an alternate flight departing from London at 7.05 pm on March 20, 2018, and she reached Copenhagen at 10 pm. She alleged that there was no connecting flight to New Delhi as per schedule there either.
She said she was stranded at the airport without a visa, while it was Lufthansa and British Airways' duty to provide her with transit visa for Copenhagen. She further alleged that she was detained by the Airport Police at Copenhagen for a night.
Her husband had to contact the Ambassador concerned and with his assistance, she was released and sent to India on Turkish Airlines from Copenhagen to New Delhi via Istanbul. She said she reached New Delhi at 5.50 am on March 22, 2018. Dhaliwal, who was then receiving treatment at Fortis hospital, filed a formal complaint on May 2, 2019.
Lufthansa, in its reply, said that the complaint against it was not maintainable, because according to Clause 14.6 of the Conditions of Carriage, their responsibility was limited to rebooking of passengers in another aircraft or carrier's flight. It further stated that it had kept the complainant updated about the status of the flights and also re-routed/re-booked the tickets immediately. It further said that the necessity of transit visa arose because the British Airways flight from San Francisco to London had a delayed arrival at the Heathrow Airport. The Airlines also stated that Dhaliwal was offered a compensation equal to 600 euros according to the Rules and Regulations of European Parliament and of the Council, but she refused to accept it.
In its written reply, British Airways stated that it had nothing to do with the purchase of tickets by the complainant from Surya Travels. It further said that it had no role to play either for the supply of the wheelchair or special meals to the complainant and for the inconvenience caused to her during the journey. They were not aware of the onward journey to Copenhagen, the airlines said. The airlines further stated that there was no mention of special requirement of a wheelchair or a special diet at the time of the booking of tickets, and hence it was not provided to the complainant.
Surya Travels and Associates in their reply stated that while returning to New Delhi, there was a change in the boarding of the flight. This was done by two airlines due to technical issues, and the complainant has already received compensation from the insurance company.
Complainant's counsel advocate Aman Dhir argued that she was arbitrarily sent on the route, and she was not provided with even a transit visa, due to which she had suffered great mental agony.
After hearing the arguments, the commission concluded that it was the duty of the two airlines to provide her with the visa for the countries before re-routing her journey. The forum further said that instead, she was treated in a rude and unacceptable manner. She was locked up at the Copenhagen airport solely because neither Lufthansa Airlines nor British Airways provided her with a transit visa.
The commission went through the photographs of the lock-up that Dhaliwal had submitted and said that the police personnel kept a watch on her as if she was a criminal. They even accompanied her when she went to the washroom and there was no provision of water at night, the commission said.
Therefore, it asked both the airlines to pay her Rs 64.5 lakh as compensation and directed the travel firm to pay Rs 5 lakh. The three entities were also directed to equally pay the litigation cost of Rs 50,000 to her.