In the recent case of Harsharn Kaur Dhaliwal v. Lufthansa German Airlines and others, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) ordered Lufthansa German Airlines and British Airways to jointly pay a compensation of 50 lacks for the traumatic experience that a senior woman passenger had to endure after being arbitrarily rerouted by the airlines.
She was appropriately rerouted without being checked to see if she had a valid visa for the transit stop, which resulted in her being arrested by local police in Copenhagen for several hours.
Lufthansa German Airlines and British Airways
The Commission noted that it was only until her husband, a former High Court judge, intervened from India and was able to connect with the authorities in Copenhagen to persuade them of his wife’s legitimacy that she was eventually permitted to leave Denmark and return to India via Turkey.
Dinesh Singh, the presiding officer, and Justice Karuna Nand Bajpayee, a member, stated that the passenger’s agony lasted almost 13 hours, from around 10 PM on March 20, 2018, to around 11.50 AM on March 21, 2018. The bench noted that an innocent person had to go through such a terrifying event for no fault of her own.
The Commission also commented that she was handled like an “insidious suspect” in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from home, where she went for hours without being heard or understood and where the authorities showed no remorse for the crying elderly woman alone in the world.
Lufthansa German Airlines flight LH-455
The incident happened in March 2018, just as the female traveler was about to depart from San Francisco and travel to New Delhi via Frankfurt, Germany. On March 19, she boarded Lufthansa German Airlines flight LH-455, the initial trip connecting San Francisco and Frankfurt. The flight would not take off, she was informed after waiting for almost three hours, so she was instructed to leave the plane.
At this point, Lufthansa changed the course of her travels, requiring her to take a British Airways aircraft out of San Francisco, which would then take her to Copenhagen, Denmark, where she could catch an Air India trip to New Delhi.
She was just given the new tickets, the Commission was informed, and was not given the choice of receiving a refund. Additionally, neither Lufthansa nor British Airlines verified that the traveler had the necessary visa for the Copenhagen transit stop. Her passport and visa were not discussed with her.
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Her lack of the necessary visa for a halt in Copenhagen, Denmark, was pertinent. She was supposed to travel to Copenhagen on a British Airways flight, but it was delayed, and by the time she got to the transit point, the Air India flight she was supposed to board had already left for India. She ended up stranded in Copenhagen without a working visa as a result, and the local police detained her.
According to the NCDRC, restricting freedom cannot be handled simply, even if it is for a “very short” period. The essential foundation of human existence is freedom. Its suspension, even if for a “very short” period, with the accompanying stigmatic insult and the inescapable fear of further legal repercussions, and that too for no fault or act attributable to the person being detained, cannot be treated as a straightforward matter of no particular significance; rather, the injury suffered must be recognized for what it is.
Apart from failing to confirm whether the transit stop required a visa, it was noted that the two airlines had failed on several other fronts, including failing to have any officials in Copenhagen to help the passenger, failing to offer wheelchair assistance, a suitable diet, or drinking water, and failing to try to communicate with one another or with the authorities at Copenhagen.
As a result, British Airways was sentenced to pay 20 lacks in compensation while Lufthansa German Airlines was ordered to pay 30 lacks, both with interest accruing at a rate of 5% per year from the occurrence date (March 19, 2018) till payment.
It was mandated that the compensation be paid within eight weeks. The NCDRC also urged the two air carriers to reflect before resolving the issue, to prevent similar events from happening again.
According to the order, “the two airlines, through their respective senior-most officials stationed in India, shall be better advised to seriously reflect upon the facts and events of the present case, and, while establishing responsibility and accountability, also inculcate and imbibe systemic improvements for the future so that such trouble and trauma are avoided for passengers generally in the future.”
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