The Consumer versus Kingfisher Airlines

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The increasing globalization and interdependence of national economies, coupled with the gradual development of an international character of several business practices has played a key role in consumer rights promotion and protection. Every consumer or client demands the value for his money in the form of finished goods and services. And the impact of technological advancement has been such that the standards for safety, availability and quality are too high.

However, this must not lead us to believe that such awareness has led to complete eradication of exploitative or unscrupulous practices. The Common populace and authorities have been battling this problem for ages. A good example here would be the occasion of launching of the Mission Indradhanush Kavach by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wherein he also warned about the adulteration of foods in Delhi and promised to start a campaign against it soon. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, a quasi-judicial Indian commission set up in 1988 under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 with its head office is in New Delhi, is not too far behind in this respect too.

On April 9, 2015 in the case of J. K. Mittal v. Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, the NCDRC came to the rescue of aggrieved fliers of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines who had been cheated by the use of unfair means and practices in online ticket booking.

The facts of the case are as follows: A a New Delhi-based practicing lawyer J. K. Mittal and Consumer Voice, an NGO; filed a consumer complaint against the Airlines alleging that Kingfisher Airlines had cheated its consumers by promising five-star premier services but, then asking passengers to travel by its low-cost subsidiary Deccan Aviation flights. In March 2008, Mr. Mittal had booked air tickets from Delhi to Bhubneswar and Bhubneswar to Delhi on a premier or regular airline. When he reached the airport and sought a boarding pass, he was informed that the concerned Airlines did not operate any flight from Delhi to Bhubneswar. He was directed to take flight operated by Deccan Aviation Ltd., a Low Cost Airline whose fares were far cheaper than the fares on the flights operated by Kingfisher Airlines. Consequently he had to hire a taxi and go to other terminal at the Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi. This wrongful representation cost him and the others, time, energy and money.

Thus, the fliers had been deceived by being misrepresentation that they would be travelling by Kingfisher Airlines and being made to travel later on a low cost airline. The material on record was heard and the NCDRC held that:  “The unfair methods and unfair or deceptive practices enumerated in Section 2(1) (r) of the Consumer Protection Act are not exhaustive, and the method and practice adopted by opposite party No.1 Kingfisher Airlines would be specifically covered in sub-clause 1(ii), since a person purchasing tickets of the flights operated by opposite party No.2 (Deccan Airways) from the website or the offices of opposite party No.1, or from the agents appointed by the opposite party No.1, is likely to believe that he will get the services, including facilities and amenities, which a regular/premier airlines provides on its flights, and it is on account of the aforesaid belief generated in his mind due to the misleading statements contained on the tickets, that he pays a price higher than the price charged by a Low Cost Airlines.” It also observed that, “we do not know as to how many tickets of the flights operated by opposite party No.2 were sold by opposite party No.1 in the aforesaid manner; it cannot be disputed that the number of such tickets must be very large.  Though, it is not known how much amount opposite party No.1 collected from the fliers in the aforesaid manner, it can be safely said it has to be huge amount. Considering all the facts and circumstances, we directed Kingfisher Airlines to deposit Rs. 25 lac as compensation in the Consumer Welfare Fund.” Along with this, a copy of the order was directed to be sent to the Director General, Civil Aviation and Secretary to the Central Government, Department of Civil Aviation, to consider taking necessary steps to ensure the same.

This decision has been hailed as a win for the cause of consumer rights in a tussle involving commoners and the corporate bigwigs. What is powerful to note here that the power of one can literally move mountains. And this begins with a level of awareness and a drive to take actions against the wrongs committed. The National Consumer Rights Sensitized Community has already become a movement and a force to reckon with. A desirable object in this direction would be a growth in numbers of this community, which with the flood of cases and pro-active litigation, is gradually becoming a reality.

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