District Consumer Court directs Qatar Airways to compensate a High Court Judge for denying him permission to board the plane despite having boarding pass

district consumer disputes redressal commission

District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (DCDRC), Ernakulam: While deliberating over a consumer complaint filed in 2018 by Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas, (who was then a designated Senior Advocate in the Kerala High Court), against Qatar Airways for denying him permission to board the plane due to overbooking, despite having boarding pass for the flight; the Bench of D.B. Binu (President) and V. Ramachandran and Sreevidhia T.N (Members) directed Qatar Airways to pay a compensation of Rs. 7,00,000 (seven lakhs) to him as compensation for the losses, mental agony, hardship, and physical stress borne due to serious deficiency of service and unfair trade practice by Qatar Airways.

Background: Justice Tomas, who at that point of time, was a designated senior advocate, had planned a trip to Scotland with his friends on 15-04-2018 from Cochin International Airport and booked tickets with Qatar Airways well in advance on 22-12-2017. He reached Cochin International Airport in the early hours of 15-04-2018 and obtained boarding passes to travel from Cochin to Doha and Doha to Edinburgh. However, upon reaching Doha for a connecting flight to the Edinburgh, Justice Thomas was denied permission to board the plane due to overbooking, despite having boarding pass for the flight.

Qatar Airways staff claimed the denial of boarding was a normal practice and offered Justice Thomas accommodation for the night and a flight for next day and meal vouchers. Consequently, the complainant reached his destination a day late and was barely able to make it to the trekking venue on time. The complainant experienced exhaustion thereby limiting his ability to enjoy planned sightseeing activities and endured significant mental anguish and trauma. The complainant thus sued Qatar Airways under Section 12 of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 alleging deficiency in service and unfair trade practices.

Qatar Airways denied the validity of the claim and contended that they have fulfilled their contractual obligations and provided compensation to the complainant. The opposite parties also raised questions on the conduct of the complainant and claimed that he is seeking monetary gains through false claims. They party argued that the instant complaint is vexatious and an abuse of due process. Qatar Airways further admitted that the complainant was denied boarding due to a technical error on their part, however they stated that compensation for the same is governed under the provisions of Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR).

Commission’s Assessment: Perusing the facts and contentions, the Commission pointed out that Justice Thomas presented his boarding passes with Qatar Airways, thereby making him a ‘consumer’ as defined in Section 2(1)(d) of the 1986 Act.

Vis-à-vis deficiency of services, the Commission noted that airline industry is governed by various statutes, particularly the Aircraft Act, 1934 and the Carriage by Air Act, 1972. Both these acts were made to implement Conventions relating to International Civil Aviation standards and recommended practices. It was further noted that “Denied Boarding’ is defined under the Civil Aviation Requirement, Section-3, Series M Part IV titled “Facilities to be provided to passengers by airlines due to denied boarding, cancellation of fights and delays in flights”. The Commission also took note of the CAR provisions vis-à-vis redressal of passenger complaints and pointed out that Section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 states that a passenger has liberty to complain to any statutory body/count set up under relevant applicable laws, In the instant case the complainant was not satisfied with the redressal of his grievance and thus approached the District Commission for the redressal of his grievances. Therefore, the Commission can grant compensation to the complainant beyond what is provided under CAR.

The Commission was of the view that it is relevant to examine whether this was an instance of denial of boarding due to overbooking as admitted by Qatar Airways or whether this is an instance of overissue or multiple issue of boarding passes by the Qatar Airways. Referring to CAR, the Commission noted that Qatar Airways did not resort to the procedure enunciated in Para 3.2.1 of the CAR. Furthermore, once boarding passes were issued, specifying the seat number and flight number, Qatar Airways cannot go back from its performance of the Contract without any valid reason as mentioned in CAR Paragraph 2.6 such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation.’ The Qatar Airways do not have a case that the complainant herein was refused carriage due to any of the abovementioned reasons.

The Commission found merit argument of the complainant that this is not a case of denial of boarding due to overbooking rather a case of denied boarding due to practice of issuance of multiple boarding passes for the same seat, thereby violating CAR and other International Conventions and Guidelines which only deals with Overbooking of tickets by which a passenger would be denied issuance of the boarding pass. The Commission thus found that there is a clear deficiency of service on the part of Qatar Airways who have also indulged in ‘unfair trade practice’ by using deceptive practice for their illegal enrichment.

The Commission also found merit in the complainant’s contention that he was discriminated. The Commission indicated that Qatar Airways may have falsified documents because the documents presented before the Commission portrays the complainant as the sole individual commencing his journey from Cochin International Airport. The Qatar Airways have acknowledged in their statements and evidence that the complainant and his friends were issued boarding passes from Kochi. “The fact that the document, claimed by the opposing parties to be an extended passenger manifest for flight QR29 from Doha to Edinburgh, and does not include the names of the complainant’s friends, indicates that the document is falsified”.

Based on the afore-stated analysis, the Commission was of the view that Qatar Airways has indulged in deficiency of services and unfair trade practices and therefore, the complainant must be compensated.

The Commission also took strict note of the fact that the complainant’s credibility and integrity was questioned by Qatar Airways while they were defending their actions. The Commission stated in strict terms that Justice Thomas, who is now a sitting Judge of Kerala High Court, simply approached the DCDRC exercising his legal right to redress his valid grievances against Qatar Airways. The Commission stated that it is unfair and inappropriate for opposite parties to make baseless accusations against a consumer who has filed a complaint to seek redressal of their issues.

[Bechu Kurian Thomas v. Qatar Airways, CC No. 352/2018, decided on 03-07-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Complainant- Adv. Paul Jacob;

Opposite Parties- Adv. Nisha George Poonthottam.

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One comment

  • hey Sucheta…

    your Airways blog is its ability to capture the develop landscape of the airline industry.

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