18757151369_e7fe4e2a10_zA Delhi lawyer has dragged the public-sector carrier Air India, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Ministry of Civil Aviation over the policy which allows airlines to ‘overbook’ flights. This policy permits airlines to deny boarding to certain passengers if overbooking of seats has been made in comparison to the number of available seats in the flight.

The petition has been filed by advocate Pallav Mongia who had booked a flight for December 12 intending to travel from Delhi to Patna. However to his surprise when he reached the check-in counter, he was informed that a boarding pass could not be issued to him as the flight was overbooked. Mongia was then asked to meet the supervisor in charge who told him that the flights are overbooked as a matter of practice and though Mongia had a confirmed ticket, he won’t be able to fly. Though Mongia was compensated for the Air India flight, he incurred loss on account of cancellation of his return flight through Jet Airways and his professional engagements at Patna.

Case No. Writ Petition (C) No. 12006 of 2015
Case Title Pallav Mongia v. Union of India & Ors.

The petition has been filed through advocate Ashish Virmani and it challenges:

  • The practice of booking and confirming tickets of number of passengers which is more than the number of seats / capacity of flights by Air India, and
  • Clause 3.2 of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) Section 3 – Air Transport, Series ‘M’, Part IV, Issue I, which purportedly permits the practice of overbooking.

The overbooking policy

Clause 3.2 of the CAR deals with ‘Denied Boarding’ which provides that if an overbooking has been made, then the airline may first ask those with confirmed seats and who have also reported on time to offer their seats to other fellow passengers. Airline may offer such ‘volunteers’ with any discretionary benefits/facilities.

However if there are no volunteers who willingly give away their seats to others, then those denied boarding may be given a refund and a compensation in amounts varying from Rs. 2000 – Rs. 4000 or the cost of the flight, whichever is less.

However under the similar situation, the aviation rules in the United States of America provide for a compensation of 400% of the flight charges, upto a maximum of $1300.

The Petition

The Petitioner has claimed that the aforesaid provision allowing overbooking is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India as “the purported provision seeks to permit overbooking of scheduled flights to reduce the possibility of flights departing with unoccupied or empty seats but makes an unreasonable classification between confirmed ticket holders who are permitted to board the flight, and those who are denied boarding.”

Petitioner has further claimed that the “Rule 3.2 cannot be read in a manner so as to give a free hand to exploit the confirmed ticket holders by overbooking flights to their whims and fancies, without any guideline, and especially so as to mislead the public by issuing a confirmed ticket, and subsequently denying boarding on the grounds of overbooking.”

The petition was listed on December 21 before Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw who posed a question regarding the overbooking rules to the DGCA and Civil Aviation Ministry. Matter has again been put for hearing today.

UPDATE: On December 22, Delhi High Court has issued notice to the respondents, seeking their reply to the challenge to overbooking policy. Notice was issued by Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw.

Matter has now been listed for hearing on 19 February.

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