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Make Flight Cancellations Free Amid COVID-19 Scare: Civil Aviation Ministry

While all domestic airlines have offered free ticket rebooking, none of them except GoAir has waived off the cancellation fee as yet.

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The Civil Aviation Ministry has asked domestic airlines to consider providing flight cancellation option without any fee to customers who are seeking to cancel their journey plans amid coronavirus concerns, according to a DGCA official. All domestic airlines, including government-owned Air India, have announced a waiver on re-booking charges in case a customer does not want to travel on the designated date but none of them, barring GoAir, has given the choice to cancel the ticket.

“The Ministry has already asked them (the airline) to consider it (providing cancellation option),” a senior DGCA official told PTI. He was asked whether the regulator was mulling directing domestic carriers to offer free of charge cancellation option as well as giving the same facility for rescheduling an existing ticket. Domestic air carriers have already announced various measures such as cancelling flights to the affected regions and waivers on rescheduling fee, among others, in the face of coronavirus concerns. Many countries have imposed travel restrictions, amid the outbreak of coronavirus, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives globally so far.

The Wadia group-owned private carrier GoAir has said it will not charge any fee on cancellation or rebooking of tickets till April 30 due to the coronavirus fear. The GoAir offer is for all bookings made between March 8 and April 30 and for the travel period between March 8 and September 30, according to the airline. But the waivers can be availed only if tickets are rebooked 14 days before departure. GoAir also said that a customer will have to pay the fare difference while rebooking a flight.

Prior to GoAir’s announcement, IndiGo offered to waive of rescheduling charges on tickets booked between March 12 and March 31 for its domestic and international flights on similar concerns. It, however, did not give the customer the option of cancellation. On March 9, other carriers Air India, Air India Express, SpiceJet and AirAsia India too said that they will not charge any fee for rebooking of their flights amid the coronavirus concerns.

Air India and its international budget arm Air India Express said passengers can reschedule their tickets free of cost for new bookings made during a certain period of time in the wake of coronavirus outbreak. One free change of travel date would be permitted for new bookings made till March 31, Air India tweeted on Monday. “In view of coronavirus situation and travel advisory issued, one free change permitted for pax to postpone any international or domestic bookings on AI network to all existing bookings with travel date till 30th April 20,” the national carrier said in the tweet stating the condition that the tickets must be re-issued on or before May 31.

In case of re-routing, the applicable difference of fare would be charged, it added. Air India Express, which flies to 13 international destinations with most of them in the Gulf, said free date change would be available to fresh bookings made between March 12-31. “In view of the uncertain travel situation due to COVID-19, free date change will be permitted up to three days prior to the flight departure, for all new bookings effected between March 12 to March 31, for travel up to April 30,” Air India Express said in a statement. Cancellation charges would be levied by both the airlines if a customer decides to cancel the ticket.

Another budget carrier SpiceJet has also decided not to charge change fee on the tickets booked for travel between March 12-31. It would also be applicable on new bookings for travel between the same period, according to a tweet from the airline, adding a passenger re-booking the flight will have to pay the fare difference.

Bengaluru-headquartered no-frills carrier AirAsia India has extended free rescheduling of tickets for all travel till March 31 on existing and new bookings. The travel can be rescheduled to any date, as per a tweet by the airline. Tata-SIA joint venture airline Vistara has also waived cancellation and rescheduling charges for bookings made on or before March 1.