New Delhi: Non-disclosure of terms for promotional air tickets amounts to an
"anti-consumer" practice, India's top consumer court has warned
while penalising Lufthansa for harassing an elderly Indian couple
who held an open ticket to return from the US.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission pulled up
Lufthansa for a non-transparent promotional scheme that left the
couple from Karnataka capital Bangalore stranded in the US for
days, forcing them to return home on another airline at their own
It ordered Lufthansa to refund Rs.80,080 (over $1,400) to R.
Bhaskaran and his wife Banumathy Bhaskaran. The couple was also
denied a refund of the partially used tickets on their return to
Lufthansa "ought to have given the terms and conditions attached
to the tickets as opposed to a normal ticket", said commission
presiding member R.C. Jain and member S.K. Naik in a recent
judgment, granting a cost of Rs.1,000 to the elderly couple.
The commission pulled up Lufthansa for not revealing either on the
tickets or by means of any leaflet that the tickets were issued to
the couple under an excursion fare scheme or that no refund was
permitted for partially-used tickets.
Bhaskaran and his wife purchased return journey air tickets from
Lufthansa's travel agent at Chennai and paid a sum of Rs.160,160
in August 2002. The tickets were valid up to February 2003.
The couple flew to the US Aug 8, 2002, but kept their return
journey open for the period of the ticket's validity till February
While in the US, Bhaskaran was taken ill and the couple decided to
return to India and approached the airline in the US to confirm
their return journey some time in the last week of November 2002.
Their request, however, was declined on the ground that seats were
not available till January 2003.
Unable to wait till January 2003, the couple bought fresh tickets
on another airline
and returned to India Dec 1, 2002.
On their return, they approached Lufthansa's travel agent for a
refund of the unused part of their tickets. The airline rejected
their claim for refund, forcing the couple to approach a consumer
Ordering a refund of Rs.80,080, the commission held Lufthansa
liable and said: "The airlines ought to have clearly stated on the
jacket of the tickets that the same were being issued under a
special concessional scheme."
"The air ticket is a document of contract between the passenger
and the airlines and it has to contain the specific terms and
conditions. In a number of cases, this commission has held that
fine prints on the jacket of the tickets are most often impossible
for a passenger to read and make sense out of them," said the
"In the present case, only code words have been used expecting the
passenger to imagine the limitations themselves, which, to say the
least, is totally anti-consumer. It is not open for the petitioner
airlines to withhold some information on their records and not
incorporating them in clear terms in the tickets," the commission
The commission also dismissed Lufthansa's claim that as against
the normal fare of Rs.216,000 stated on the tickets, they realised
only Rs.160,160 from the couple due to the concessional scheme.
"From a scrutiny of the tickets, photocopies of which have been
filed by the petitioner (airlines) themselves, however, we do not
find any mention of the normal fare being Rs.216,000. This clearly
belies their claim or contention," the commission said.
Bhaskarans' complaint was resisted by Lufthansa by claiming that
they availed themselves of discounted tickets under its "excursion
fare scheme", which was covered by certain specific terms and
conditions and they were not entitled to any refund for the
"We are not convinced with this line of argument of the airlines
for the simple reason that the complainants have totally denied
that the airlines' travel agent had ever informed them that the
tickets were issued under any special scheme or that they were
being given such concessions," the commission said.
"The reference to the code word in the tickets, to say the least,
is at best an information for the internal consumption and
management of the airlines and a consumer cannot dream of the
implications behind each letter," the commission said.
(Rahul Chhabra can be contacted at email@example.com)