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Panel upholds widow’s appeal to seek refund on husband’s air ticket

“Any unfair term of contract,whatever it may be,entitles a person to compensation for the mental agony suffered or for deficiency in service...

Written by Ayesha Arvind | New Delhi |
January 27, 2009 11:55:30 pm

“Any unfair term of contract,whatever it may be,entitles a person to compensation for the mental agony suffered or for deficiency in service,” the Delhi State Consumer Commission ruled in a recent order,while slapping a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on Indian Airlines.

The observation came after Indian Airlines refused to refund the value of unused tickets to a customer’s family,after the customer suddenly passed away before using them. The tickets had been issued under a “special promotional scheme”.

The commission pulled up the airlines for “deficiency in service”,noting that the consumer could not be subjected to any “jeopardy or loss under contracts that were beneficial in nature”.

The order came after the airlines filed a petition before the state commission,seeking reprieve from a previous order by a district forum that made it liable to pay a penalty of Rs 1 lakh.

According to the application,in April 2005,late Justice V K Jain,then a sitting judge of the Himachal Pradesh High Court,had bought two sets of tickets worth Rs two lakh for “unrestricted travel within the country”. The tickets had been purchased under a promotional scheme floated by the airline whereby it offered 16 flight coupons with unrestricted travel on domestic sectors,valid for a year,in the economy class for Rs 65,000 and in the executive class for Rs 1 lakh.

However,in February 2006,Jain died of a heart attack. He and his wife had travelled against only seven tickets until that time.

Jain’s wife then contacted the airline,seeking a refund of around Rs 1.1 lakh,the cost of the nine unutilised tickets. The airline,however,refused to refund the whole amount and instead,sent a cheque worth around Rs 50,000 as a “goodwill gesture” on its part.

The airline,in its defence,contended that the respondent was not entitled to a refund of the unutilised tickets,as the terms and conditions of the scheme stipulated that the tickets issued were non-transferable and non-refundable. Mrs Jain on the other hand,contended that she and her late husband had not signed any contract that laid down the above conditions.

Terming the terms as “unfair”,Justice J D Kapoor,president,State Consumer Commission,dismissed the defence’s arguments. “There are certain terms of every such contract which may be agreed upon by the consumer but in certain exigencies,such terms prove to be unfair and unconscionable,” Justice Kapoor said in his order.

“Even if the Commission assumes that the respondent had agreed to the terms and conditions of the scheme in question,still it is of the view that this case should have been treated on its own facts and circumstances. It was not possible for the respondent to utilise the remaining coupons because of the sudden death of one of the beneficiaries,” Justice Kapoor said,while maintaining the district forum’s order directing the airline to compensate the late judge’s family.

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