Consumer rights
Flying problem
Pushpa Girimaji

AN airline ticket is like a small booklet. The actual tickets form only a few pages or leaves, depending on the number of tickets in it. The rest is printed matter pertaining to conditions of contract, liability of the carrier in case of baggage loss, goods that are banned on the airline, etc. And when you travel, you hand over the ticket book to the person issuing the boarding pass. That person tears the relevant ticket leaf and returns the rest, along with your boarding pass. Most people do not check to see whether the unused parts of the tickets are still there. They assume that they are, collect the ticket book and the boarding pass and move on.

Thatís what 21-year-old Nina Dísouza too did. On June 16, she was travelling from Delhi to Goa. When she presented her ticket at the Indian Airlines counter in Delhi, her ticket book contained three tickets ó one meant for her journey from Delhi to Goa, the other for her journey from Goa to Cochin and another blank ticket. The counter clerk handed back her ticket book and her boarding pass (for Delhi-Goa) and she left. At Goa airport when she handed over her ticket, the ticketing clerk opened it and declared that there were no tickets left in the ticket book. Nina was obviously taken aback and then realised that at Delhi airport, the ticketing person must have torn off three tickets instead of one.

Her appeals to the airline officials to find out from Delhi whether they had by mistake torn them off and kept them aside did not bring forth any response. They told her that she would have to buy a new ticket to travel. Upset, humiliated and in tears, the young woman sought the help of her friends and together they all managed to produce the Rs 2800 required to buy a new ticket.

Ninaís experience raises the question. Was it an oversight on the part of the ticketing person? But surely, one cannot tear off three tickets instead of one by oversight. If it indeed was a mistake then it certainly constitutes negligence on the part of the airline staff and the passenger is entitled to not just the refund of the tickets, but also compensation for the humiliation and harassment suffered.

It raises another question too. If this was not an inadvertent mistake then was it a deliberate attempt on the part of the airline staff to steal the tickets? Even though airlines say that the tickets are not transferable, they never ask passengers for their identity, so one can easily travel using another personís ticket. In fact, recently, a doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who lost his credit card, found that the person who had stolen it had bought airline tickets and had travelled under his name.

I too had a somewhat strange experience recently. I had bought an IA e-ticket and when I presented it at the counter in Delhi, the person gave me a boarding pass, but did not return my ticket. When I asked her, she said that was her copy. I then pointed to the return ticket also printed on the same page and said obviously I needed that to return to Delhi (I was travelling Delhi-Hyderabad-Delhi). She then handed over the return ticket, but without even so much as an apology.

Here again, this might have been a genuine mistake, but how can airline staff afford to make such a mistake? As I said, Ninaís could be a rare case. Or there could be others too. And itís time the airline investigated into them. If this has happened on account of oversight, employees have to be warned to be more careful. Or the airline must devise the tickets in such a way that they do not stick together and there is also a system of confirming the identity of the person travelling so that there is no misuse of such tickets.

And if this is a ticketing fraud involving employees, it needs to be investigated by the Vigilance Department and action taken against those indulging in such practices.

Meanwhile, I would advise consumers to be extremely careful with their tickets. Whichever the airline, when you get back the ticket along with the boarding pass, make sure that the unused tickets are intact. If they are missing, point it out immediately and get it back. If there is any problem, complain in writing to the airport manager. If they fail to respond, you can go to the consumer court. You must also write to the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Vigilance Department.