Updated: October 8, 2021 3:19:08 pm
The closure of Pune airport later this month and the resultant cancellation of flights has landed several flyers in trouble with many of them complaining of difficulties in getting refunds from airlines or in rescheduling bookings.
Several customers pointed out that they have spent hours trying to reach customer care lines, but the airlines are not forthcoming in providing an alternative travel date and are even warning them that a ‘cancellation fee’ will be charged if they opt for a refund.
In many cases, customers who had booked to travel during the October 16-30 closure period are still awaiting communication from airlines. Some have even resorted to raising the matter on social media platforms.
Kanish Dagar, a student, posted his predicament on social media and blamed the airline for harassing him by not rescheduling his flight or providing him with a full refund. “I am a student and due to Pune Airport closure I needed a full refund or a free reschedule. Both are being denied to me. I was told that rescheduling will come at a cost,” Dagar wrote.
Sachin Almal, who had three Pune-Delhi bookings with SpiceJet for October 16, said he kept calling the helpline hoping to reschedule the journey for October 15, but couldn’t get through. When he posted the issue on social media, he was told by the airline that they were dealing with a flurry of calls and that he must keep trying. “Later, the airline did reschedule the flight as per my request,” he said.
Two days after the announcement of the shutdown, several airlines continued to tell worried flyers that “their services were operational” during the period, adding to the frustration.
Pune-based entrepreneur Gauri Pokhariyal said her husband had booked to travel to Delhi on October 19 and return to Pune on October 29 on a Vistara flight. “After we got to know about the airport closure on Tuesday, I tried contacting the airline to reschedule the booking or get a refund. I kept calling but couldn’t get through. I sent them messages on Twitter and was told that the service was still operational. This was two days after the official announcement of the closure,” said Pokhariyal.
Meanwhile, the family decided to book the journey via Mumbai at double the amount they had initially paid. On Friday, Pokhariyal finally got through to the Vistara helpline. “They gave me impractical rescheduling options and when I sought a refund, I was told that they will deduct a cancellation charge. It apparently doesn’t occur to them that it is they who cancelled the booking, not us. Finally, when I insisted on a refund, they sent me a message seeking an explanation on why I could not accept the reschedule options given to me,” added Pokhariyal.
Varun Pandya, proprietor of Fun Holidays, said so far there has been no intimation regarding the closure from the airlines. “We have done bookings for several clients during the shutdown period. So far, all airlines are still showing bookings as confirmed and if we go to cancel, we have to incur charges. To get refunds, we have to wait till the airline declares the flight as cancelled,” said Pandya.
Nilesh Bhansali, Director of the Travel Agents Association of Pune, said the sudden announcement has dealt a blow to tourist agencies. Businesses, he said, had suffered heavily over the last one and a half years owing to pandemic-related disturbances and were slowly getting back on their feet.
“Due to the adverse effects on income, people are on very tight budgets,” Bhansali said, referring to tourists who had booked trips to places including Kashmir, Coorg, and Jaipur. “If we reschedule their flight via Mumbai, it costs 20-40 per cent higher as flight ticket rates have gone up now. The tour budget goes up considerably. The clients too are in a tough situation because if they cancel the tour, they will lose the money spent on hotel bookings,” said Bhansali.
“We are working with bare minimum staff and the rescheduling, refund work translates to additional unpaid service we have to give our clients,” said Bhansali, emphasising that better communication from the Air Force and Airports Authority of India could have saved them from this trouble.
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