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DGCA Notice to Air India for Poor Passenger Management, 15 Lakh Passengers Impacted by Flight Cancellations, Delays by Different Airlines

DGCA Notice to Air India for Poor Passenger Management, 15 Lakh Passengers Impacted by Flight Cancellations, Delays by Different Airlines

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 31: Aviation watchdog the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Friday issued a show cause notice to Air India over recent incidents of long flight delays and failure to take due care of passengers in which passengers ostensibly faced significant discomfort, which the regulator said were in violation of various norms prescribed by it.

The regulator particularly mentioned about the inordinate delay of two international flights, AI 183 from Delhi to San Francisco on May 30 and AI 179 from Mumbai to San Francisco on May 24. Both flights were delayed and passengers were put to discomfort due to insufficient cooling in the cabin. Further, repeated incidents of passengers being put to discomfort by Air India in violation of DGCA norms have come to the notice of the regulator, as per the show cause notice.

The regulator also noted that Air India was “time and again failing in taking due care of passengers” and not complying with its provisions related to
“facilities to be provided to passengers by airlines due to denied boarding, cancellation of flights and delays in flights.” “Air India is hereby called upon to show cause as to why enforcement action shall not be initiated against the airline,” for the violations, the regulator said.

An official said Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia took cognisance of the flight delays and inconvenience caused to passengers, following which the DGCA issued the show cause notice and asked the Air India authorities to reply within three days.

The passengers of the Delhi – San Francisco flight on Thursday was one of the worst hit. Visuals from Delhi airport showed passengers of the flight lying down along an aerobridge corridor and many complained about fainting inside the plane without air-conditioning.

The flight was delayed “due to operational reasons” and by the time the issue was resolved, flight duty time limitations kicked in, Air India sources said. The airlines has been asked to explain why arrangements were not made to lessen the misery of the passengers in Delhi, which has been recording temperatures of nearly 50 degrees Celsius.

There were around 200 passengers on-board the Boeing 777 aircraft that was to operate flight AI 183. The flight was originally scheduled to take off at around 3.30 pm on Thursday but was delayed by around six hours due to a technical glitch and the aircraft was changed before getting rescheduled.

The revised departure time was about 8 pm for which passengers boarded another plane at around 7.20 pm. wherein the air-conditioning system was not working and as a result, some of those on-board fainted. The plane had aged people and children, who were feeling uneasy, a woman passenger said. After almost an hour, they came out. The passengers had to wait for nearly an hour in the aerobridge before the gates were opened to go back to the airport, the passenger said. After hours of delay at the airport, Air India provided passengers accommodation for the night, with the flight being rescheduled for Friday.

Official sources said in the first five months of the current year, more than 15 lakh passengers have been adversely hit by the cancellation of flights or inordinate delays in flight schedules. Since December 2023, hundreds of cancellations and poor on-time performance of airlines have left thousands of people stranded at airports across India. Between March 31 and April 3 this year, 150 Vistara flights were cancelled and 200 flights were delayed by more than two hours. On May 8, Air India Express cancelled 90 of its 360 flights. Similar cancellations, though not at this scale, were recorded across many large airlines at various points this year.

The recent crisis to hit the aviation industry is fuelled by the unavailability of crew. In the case of Air India Express, about 200 cabin crew reported “sick.” In the case of Vistara too, crew unavailability was cited as the reason. There has been a mismatch between demand and supply of crew amid the expansion of the networks.

The new troubles have come just as the aviation industry has started shrugging off the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in record losses for all airlines. During the first few months of the pandemic, in 2020, passenger flow came to a halt as airlines were grounded. In later months, passenger flow trickled in as airlines had to follow pandemic-related protocols. Despite that, airlines continued to pay salaries, airport fees, and aircraft and engine rentals and thus faced heavy losses. Later in 2022, when passenger flow returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, aviation fuel prices shot up and airlines continued to suffer as passing on the entire fuel hike burden to passengers, already reeling under fare hike to meet the losses suffered during Covid, was not a credible option.

In January 2024, 5% of IndiGo’s flights, 3.4% of SpiceJet’s flights, and about 2% of Air India’s flights were cancelled. Even in the month prior, cancellations ranged between 1% and 2% for these airlines.

While the cancellation rate may statistically appear insignificant, the absolute number of passengers affected even when 1-2% flights get cancelled in a month is staggering. For instance, in the four months between December 2023 and March 2024, 1.5 lakh passengers couldn’t travel due to cancellations. When an airline with a significantly higher number of scheduled flights cancels even 1% of its flights, the number of passengers affected too is considerably higher. In total, since January 2022, 6.5 lakh passengers have been affected by cancellations.

Cancellations result in a demand for refunds by passengers. Data show that the refund process has not been smooth. In 2022, across many months, over 25% of the total complaints were about refunds. In 2023 and 2024, this share reduced to 15%, which is commendable given the high number of cancellations. But problems persist.

The on-time performance of airlines has also been drastically falling in the past two years. In December 2023, the on-time performance of all major airlines fell to the lowest level in two years (SpiceJet: 30%, Air India: 47.6%, IndiGo: 60%). The poor on-time performance continued in 2024 as well. In the last two years, 45 lakh passengers have been impacted by this issue.



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