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Trouble in the sky

Long haul international journeys can be quite tiresome and uncomfortable. It is for this reason that passengers who can afford it prefer to travel first class, so that they can at least stretch their legs and be as comfortable as possible within the confined space of an aircraft.

Here is a case of a senior citizen, a 72-year old doctor, who, despite buying a business class ticket, was denied the comforts of even economy class. Despite knowing that the seat was defective, it was allotted to him and as a result, he could not recline throughout the journey and had to sit straight in one position. But worse, he had to travel without the mandatory seat belt during the journey (because that also got stuck) and also at the time of landing in London. And then, the airline added insult to injury by offering him (in response to his written complaint), an upgrade to first class the next time he travelled with them! That, I would say, is the height of optimism — to think that even after the way he was treated by the airline, the passenger would ever use their services again! That was not all. In response to his complaint before the consumer court, an official who represented the national carrier even gave a false affidavit that the seat in question was not defective at all.

Expressing strong displeasure over the behaviour of the airline, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Maharashtra directed the airline to refund the cost of the ticket from Mumbai to London and also pay Rs 2 lakh as compensation. But more important, it issued a notice to the general manager (legal) of the airline T. Narindra Kumar, as to why perjury proceedings should not be initiated against him for filing a false affidavit stating that the seat in question was not defective.

The apex court upheld the compensation awarded by the state commission. However, it stayed the execution order against Kumar by asking him to pay Rs 1,75,000 to the complainant. It also directed Air India to conduct an internal enquiry and take appropriate action against him (FA No. 234 of 2006, decided on March 14, 2008).

This order should send out a strong warning to all those who take consumer courts lightly and try to escape liability for deficient service or defective goods by producing false affidavits. Two years ago, the apex consumer court had imposed punitive damages of Rs 1.5 lakh on Reliance India Mobile Limited, for giving false information in the affidavit submitted to the consumer court (RP No. 53 of 2006, decided on May 8, 2006).

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