No Obligation on Airlines to Escort Every Flyer to Boarding Gate, Says Supreme Court
The court said that if a passenger encounters difficulty to report at the boarding gate, she or he should seek assistance of the ground staff.
New Delhi: Flyers are expected to proceed towards boarding gates after check-ins at airports on their own and there is no obligation of airlines to escort every passenger, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
The top court said that if a passenger encounters difficulty to report at the boarding gate, she or he should seek assistance of the ground staff.
A bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said if such a request is made, there is no reason to presume that the ground staff of the concerned airline will not extend logistical assistance to facilitate the passenger for reporting at the boarding gate in time.
"After a boarding pass is issued, the passenger is expected to proceed towards security channel area and head towards specified boarding gate on his own. There is no contractual obligation on the airlines to escort every passenger, after the boarding pass is issued to him at the check-in counter, up to the boarding gate," the bench said.
"Further, the airlines issuing boarding passes cannot be made liable for the misdeeds, inaction or so to say misunderstanding caused to the passengers, until assistance is sought from the ground staff of the airlines at the airport well in time," it said.
The judgment came on an appeal challenging an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC).
NCDRC, while hearing a review plea of the airlines against the Tripura state commission's order, had asked Indigo to pay Rs 20,000 to Kalpana Rani Debbarma and her family.
Debbarma, her husband and her two minor sons were travelling from Kolkata to Agartala availing Indigo flight services in 2017. The airline had issued boarding passes to all of them.
Debbarma claimed in her plea that the airline left her family at the Kolkata Airport without informing them despite their being in the airport premises. She also claimed that the airport staff snatched away the tickets from her when she went to the office staff to file a written complaint.
The family had to stay in a hotel and purchase new tickets the next day.
The airline had contended that numerous announcements were made at regular intervals and that the passengers did not report at the boarding gate on time.
The apex court refused to agree with the observations of the State Consumer Commission that after issuing boarding pass, it is the duty of the airlines' authority to help the passengers so that they can board the flight well in time on completion of the security check.
"This is a sweeping observation. We do not agree with the same. We have already taken the view that there is no obligation on the airlines to escort every passenger after issuing him/her a boarding pass at the check-in counter until he/she reaches the boarding gate. That would be a very tall claim to make. Indeed, in a given case, if the passenger encounters difficulty or impediment to report at the boarding gate, he/she is expected to seek assistance of the ground staff of the concerned airlines well in time," the bench said.
The court said that if such a request is made, there is no reason to presume that the ground staff of the concerned airlines will not extend logistical assistance to facilitate the passenger for reporting at the boarding gate in time.
"That, however, would be a matter to be enquired into on case to case basis. That question does not arise in the present case, as no such plea has been taken in the complaint or the evidence given on behalf of the respondents," it said.
The court said the approach of the consumer fora is in complete disregard of the principles of pleadings and burden of proof.
"First, the material facts constituting deficiency in service are blissfully absent in the complaint as filed. Second, the initial onus to substantiate the factum of deficiency in service committed by the ground staff of the airlines at the airport after issuing boarding passes was primarily on the respondents.
"That has not been discharged by them. The consumer fora, however, went on to unjustly shift the onus on the appellants because of their failure to produce any evidence. In law, the burden of proof would shift on the appellants only after the respondents/complainants had discharged their initial burden in establishing the factum of deficiency in service," it said.
The bench also refused to issue direction on the suggestion of senior advocate Rajiv Dutta, appointed amicus curiae in the case, for issuing directions to all the airlines to abide by uniform practice.
"We refrain from doing so and leave that to the competent authority (DGCA) to consider the same and after interacting with all the stakeholders, take appropriate decision and issue instructions in that behalf, as may be advised.
The competent authority (DGCA) may do so within a reasonable time, preferably within six months from receipt of a copy of this judgment or any representation in that behalf," it said.
The court set aside the judgments and orders passed by the District Forum, State Commission and the National Commission saying it cannot be sustained.
It held that the complainants were not accommodated in the next flight for Agartala without payment of airfare cannot be regarded as deficiency in service in relation to the contract which stood discharged and accomplished after 'Gate No Show'.
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