Vikram V, a student of architecture from a college in Mumbai has been trying to fly back home in Chennai for the last one week. Since then, his bookings on three different flights have been cancelled—the latest being a SpiceJet flight scheduled for June 16 at 10 pm.
“While I got a refund for one flight, the other two have been credit shells or an offer, in which I can make a booking by a stipulated time for the same cost as the cancelled booking,” he said.
On asking the reason for the frequent cancellations of the flights, he added that the airlines gave him a vague reason that is the restrictions imposed by the Maharashtra government for the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Vikram is not alone in the struggle, as with him, scores of other travellers have been subjected to confusion, last-minute cancellations and difficult refund systems by various airlines since the operations resumed from May 25.
The gruelling nature of the aviation industry for both the workers and passengers has forced many to cancel trips.
Kanchan Mehta, another passenger who booked a flight from Hyderabad to Mumbai at the end of May, to visit her mother has dropped the plans altogether after the flight got cancelled and the process of the refund was a tedious one.
She said, “It took me time to convince them to refund my ticket and that I was not sure about booking a flight in a later date.”
Why take bookings in uncertain times
The sources at the Chennai Airport have informed The Federal that there have been restrictions on flights from Maharashtra and Gujarat given the high number of COVID cases.
Which leads to questions like, what is the need to run flights between the risky destinations in the first place?
“This is uncalled for and they should not have scheduled flights in the first place,” said Vikram. Although he was tempted to book another flight, he decided otherwise because it cost ₹45,000 and was a 16-hour journey with stops.
Aviation industry not at its best
A report on the performance of domestic airlines in 2020 by the Director-General of Civil Aviation showed that the overall cancellation rate of scheduled domestic airlines for the month of May-20 has been 3.80 per cent with Air India topping the list with 17.1 per cent.
At the end of May when domestic flights were set to begin operations, the three states that objected to it – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal – opted for curtailed operations. Mumbai and Chennai airports allowed only 25 arrivals and departures.
June also witnessed repeated cancellations and flights’ taking a detour has been a regular occurrence for flyers for the last few weeks.
A week ago, there were reports of a reputed online travel agency cautioning people against booking GoAir flights due to the sudden cancellations of several of their flights. Moreover, the airline was also accused of not responding to passenger complaints and being slow on refunds.
Upon queries related to Spicejet flight cancellations, the airline’s spokesperson, said, “SpiceJet is operating all its flights as per the approved schedule and conditions laid down by respective State governments. We urge you not to believe in misleading reports that have no basis.”
However, paradoxically, there was no response to the details sought regarding the flight cancelled on June 16, booked by Vikram.
A source from one of the airlines, on the condition of anonymity, said that low occupancy and changing rules by states are the primary reasons for the repeated cancellations.
“It looks like people are also not very keen on flying, due to the COVID-19 situation,” the source added.
Flyers wary of bookings and refunds
Passengers also claim that the credit shell looks like a ploy to get some money in the low-profit time by the airlines.
Daisy Lorain Moise, who had booked an Indigo flight to Goa from Chennai for June 11, said that after the flight was cancelled, she had to wait for a few hours to get another one operated by the same airline via Hyderabad.
“I booked a week in advance to get back home after being stranded in Chennai for over two and a half months due to the lockdown. They claimed that these were last minute changes to regulations by various states. But why are they continuing to schedule flights from the specific destinations that are seeing repeated cancellations in such a situation?” she asked.
The aviation sector globally has been hit extremely hard because of the travel restrictions imposed by the countries in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the looks of it, it could take a while for the industry to be back on track.