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Govt meets online travel aggregators on issues affecting consumer interest

By TIOL News Service

NEW DELHI, NOV 09, 2023: THE Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, held a meeting with online travel aggregators to discuss issues prejudicial to consumer interest in the travel sector.

The meeting was chaired by Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs. During the meeting, the issue of non-refund of amount of tickets booked during Covid-19 lockdown period was also highlighted. It was noted that despite clear directions by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated 01.10.2020, in the case of Pravasi Legal Cell vs. Union of India (D.No. 10966 of 2020), which mandated full refunds for tickets booked during the lockdown period for travel within that same period, numerous complaints were registered on the National Consumer Helpline ('1915') of non-refund of ticket amount.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) took suo-moto cognizance of this issue and issued notice to 6 online Travel Platforms i.e. EaseMyTrip, Yatra, MakeMyTrip, HappyEasyGo, ClearTrip & Ixigo and 5 Travel Agencies such as Thomas Cook, Kesari Tours, Veena World, Neem Holidays & Mango Holidays directing them to immediately refund consumers as per directions of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Pravasi Legal Cell vs. Union of India. With the timely intervention and rigorous efforts of CCPA, two companies namely Ixigo and Thomas Cook have successfully refunded all the amount to the consumers.

The progress report of refunds processed by the aggregators pursuant to action taken by CCPA is as under-

Yatra

EaseMyTrip

MakeMyTrip

Clear Trip

Refunds pending in 2021- 36,276 Refunds pending in 2023- 5,695

Total amount refunded till 2023- Rs. 22,85,72,914/-

In 2021-1,87,046

2023- Only one booking (that includes 4 passengers) is pending for refund which pertains to British Airways.

Total amount refunded in till June 2021-

Rs. 2,32,63,74,274

Refunds pending in 2021- 9301

Refunds pending in 2022- 3607

Refunds pending in 2023- 63

Total amount refunded till 2023- Rs. 978 crores (approx.)

Total Bookings in 2020- 1,64,944

Total value of Bookings during Lockdown- Rs. 174,05,15,815/-

Total No. of Bookings which were not eligible for refunds -14,954 (Out of 1,64,944) (Already amended or had utilized the credit shell

Total amount refunded- Rs. 158,27,18,784/-

Ixigo

HappyEasyGo

Thomas Cook

Mango

Holidays

Total 82,059 consumers were affected due to lockdown.

Total amount refunded in 2023- Rs. 46,68,84,355/-

Refunds pending in 2021- 3722

In 2022- 882

In 2023- The Company is not responding despite several reminders. Investigation report is awaited.

Total amount refunded to consumers has not been disclosed by the Company till date.

In 2021- 16 passengers

In 2023- All 16 passengers got refunded.

Total amount refunded to Consumers has not been shared by the Company as 8 passengers opted for refund and 8 passengers opted for credit shell. Hence the matter was closed by CCPA.

Total Amount refunded in Mango Holidays - 4,13,640/

Pending refunds –

14,75,000 pending

Kesari Tours, Mango Holidays and Veena World have filed petition in Court against Orders of issuing refund to consumers passed by the CCPA. Neem Holidays is presently under investigation by the CCPA.

The travel platforms were informed that they should process the pending refunds by third week of November, pursuant to which CCPA may initiate appropriate legal proceedings before the Hon'ble Supreme Court including filing of a contempt petition against the defaulting platforms.

During the meeting, it was deliberated that for effective resolution of consumer complaints, the National Consumer Helpline may be integrated with the Air Sewa Portal.

It was also highlighted by the representatives of Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that the Ministry has published a 'Passenger Charter' which includes the rights of passengers during air travel. It was decided that Charter should be actively publicized among consumers including publishing the same on the National Consumer Helpline.

Further, the establishment of an Ombudsman for time-bound resolution of consumer grievances was also deliberated. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Department of Consumer Affairs can jointly work on the modalities involved in establishing the same.

The meeting began with a presentation by Nidhi Khare, Special Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, who highlighted commonly prevalent 'dark patterns' on online travel platforms such as confirm shaming (Showing 'No, I will risk it' during add-on of insurance), showing pre-ticked checkboxes (for authorizing contact by platform, its affiliates and associate partners), triggering alarm ('last few rooms left', '18 people are looking to book') and forced action (Giving option of 'yes' and 'I'll do this later' for push notifications, without any option to select 'no').

The meeting was attended by representatives from major travel platforms including MakeMyTrip, Yatra, ClearTrip etc. It was also attended by noted consumer activists Pushpa Girimaji and Mr. Shirish Deshpande, Chairman, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.

Later, the discussion concluded with the commitment to continue to explore ways to counter deceptive online practices and protect consumers' interests in the travel sector.


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