Almost 13 years after she was forced to buy overpriced business class tickets and made to travel separately from her husband on a flight during her honeymoon, the State Consumer Commission asked an airline to pay the woman Rs 3 lakh as compensation and refund her the ticket price.
Sheena Kashyap, who now lives in Texas in United States, was going to her honeymoon from New Delhi to Amsterdam with husband Shaman Sharma in 2001 when it all happened. Her father OP Kashyap — a retired commodore with the Indian Navy — had booked her tickets with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The couple planned to fly together from New Delhi to Amsterdam, and then to Detroit and Dallas in December 2001.
While Sharma’s tickets were already booked, Sheena got her tickets booked provisionally from an agent known as M/s Airborne Travels Pvt. Ltd. Later, she found the rates of another agent, M/s Business Travels Ltd cheaper by Rs 3,000 and got the earlier booking cancelled. ‘Business Travels’ over telephone intimated Sheena of the confirmed booking and delivered the ticket at her residence, for which she had paid Rs 27,126 in cash.
When she called KLM Airlines office a few days later to check the meal details, she was told there was no booking in her name. Sheena then raised the matter with ‘Business Travels’, but was informed that they had no information of her booking being cancelled. They then reportedly asked her to take “a chance” at the airport.
At the airport with her husband and family, Sheena was shocked to learn that there was no booking in her name. Upon producing the ticket delivered to her by ‘Business Travels’, she was told that the ticket from New Delhi to Amsterdam was fake. Interestingly, the ticket for the rest two sectors — Amsterdam to Detroit and Detroit to Dallas – was original, the airlines told her.
As per a copy of the complaint, Sheena was advised to buy a fresh ticket for New Delhi to Amsterdam in business class for Rs 59,391. Left with no option, she booked the high-priced ticket.
Upon returning from her trip, Sheena filed a case in the consumer district forum which ruled in her favour. The airlines was asked to refund her ticket money as well pay her Rs 2 lakh as compensation.
Contesting the district forum’s order, the airlines claimed that the booking was made first by ‘Business Travels’ and later by ‘Airborne Travels’. Hence, the computer automatically cancelled the first booking on account of the double booking system in place.
Upholding the district forum’s order, the State Consumer Commission observed that the airlines had “connived” with agent ‘Business Travels’ and cancelled Sheena’s booking. “(They) blackmailed her into paying an additional sum of Rs 59,391 taking advantage of her helpless situation and at the same (time), forfeiting the original confirmed ticket,” the commission said.
During interrogation, officials of the airlines admitted that there were 26 seats in business class and 265 seats in economy class in that particular aircraft. On the said day, 26 passengers were carried in business class and 263 in economy class.
“It is not understandable as to why the complainant, Ms Sheena Kashyap was asked to travel by business class when admittedly, there was a seat available in economy class on that day,” the commission ruled.
Referring to the airlines’ defence as “self-contradictory” and “devoid of merits”, the commission said that the booking done through Airborne Travels was not a confirmed one and therefore, there “is no logic in cancelling a confirmed booking in preference to an unconfirmed booking”.
Moreover, the ticket was a consolidated price for travel to all three sectors – New Delhi to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Detroit and Detroit to Dallas.
Dismissing the appeal by the airlines, the commission ordered an additional Rs 1 lakh to be paid to Sheena, taking the total amount of compensation to Rs 3 lakh.