By Rahul Chhabra
New Delhi, May 24 A Indian scholar invited to a US conference has won his battle against British Airways in the top consumer forum, which has directed the airline to compensate him Rs.150,000 ($2,600) for his “mental agony and harassment”.
Complainant Rabindra Nath Pati was prevented from boarding a flight from Philadelphia on his way home despite holding a valid ticket, forcing him to overstay in the US.
“Looking into the facts and circumstances of the case in entirety, we feel that a sum of Rs.150,000 should be awarded to the complainant for ticket, the expenses incurred for stay in the US and also as compensation for mental agony and harassment,” the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said in a recent order.
Pati said he was invited by Penn State University, Pennsylvania, to attend the Indigenous Knowledge Conference-2004 between May 27 and 29. He applied for a visa to the US consulate at Kolkata, indicating that he wanted to stay in the US for two weeks. He purchased a British Airways return ticket for Rs.62,992 from Swosti Travels in Bhubaneswar.
Pati said after the conference he went to Philadelphia airport June 22, 2004 to board the British Airways flight on his way back to India. The airline did not permit him to board the aircraft.
The airline staff told him his visa stood expired May 29, 2004 and, since he had no valid visa, he was supposed to obtain a transit visa for flying through Britain, Pati said. According to Pati, his US visa was valid for six months as a short-term scholar.
Pati requested British Airways to refund the balance cost of his return ticket so that he could fly home by some other airline which didn’t insist on a transit visa. British Airways, however, told him that the refund could be given only at the place of booking in India.
Pati complained that he was forced to stay on in the US and he had to borrow money from some friends as well as spend from his own resources. He purchased a ticket on an Alitalia flight and reached India July 17, 2004.
The district forum Feb 7, 2005, directed British Airways to refund to Pati the balance cost of the return ticket – Rs.31,486 – and pay him Rs.50,000 towards the cost of living in the US from June 22, 2004, to July 16, 2004. The forum also awarded compensation of Rs.50,000 for the mental agony caused to Pati and Rs.2,000 as cost of litigation.
The airline filed an appeal against the district forum order in the state consumer commission which allowed Pati a total of Rs.72,896, which included the balance of the return ticket at Rs.31,496 and the cost of Alitalia ticket at Rs.41,400.
The national commission, however, disagreed with the state commission on the amount of ticket refund.
“The complainant cannot be given the benefit of getting refund for the unused British Airways ticket and also allowed the value of new ticket purchased from Alitalia. At best, he can be awarded one of these amounts, otherwise it will amount to a double benefit,” Chaudhari said.
British Airways now has the option of challenging the national commission’s verdict in the Supreme Court.
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