Emirates airline has landed in trouble for losing a passenger's luggage during a flight to Athens. India's top consumer court has ordered it to pay Rs.2 lakh compensation to the passenger for causing "harassment, agony, mental tension and loss of professional face apart from monetary loss".
National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission President Ashok Bhan and Member Vineeta Rai said complainant Rakesh Chopra, an oncologist and resident of Rajinder Nagar in Delhi, was entitled to relief due to deficiency in the service of the airline.
Emirates not only lost his bag after Chopra and his wife flew from Delhi to Athens but also failed to prevent pilferage of his luggage during the return journey, the court said.
"There was deficiency in service on the part of the airline in losing and mishandling Chopra's luggage, which caused him harassment, agony, mental tension and loss of professional face apart from monetary loss. He is entitled to compensation for this deficiency in service...under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986," Mr Bhan said in a recent decision.
"The airline which was entrusted with the safe custody and delivery of the passenger's luggage admittedly failed to do so, causing Chopra to undergo mental tension," the commission said.
The case reached the national commission after the airline appealed against a judgment by the Delhi Consumer Commission in favour of Chopra who boarded the Emirates plane Nov 4, 1998, to attend a business conference in Athens Nov 6-10, 1998.
Giving the airlines time till June 10 to pay the Rs.2 lakh compensation, the top consumer court dismissed the airline's plea against the state commission's judgment.
"We uphold the order of the state commission and dismiss the present first appeal. Appellant airline is directed to pay Chopra a sum of Rs.2 lakh..., failing which the amount will carry interest of nine per cent per annum for the period of default," Bhan said.
"We see no reason to disagree with the compensation awarded, which, we feel, is fully justified under the circumstances," the national commission said.
Emirates now has the option of challenging the national commission's decision in the Supreme Court.
The commission dismissed the airline's contention that since it had offered Chopra compensation as per the terms and conditions of the Carriage by Air Act, 1972, he was not entitled to compensation under the consumer protection law.
"There is, of course, no doubt that based on provisions of Carriage by Air Act, 1972, the airlines had offered to pay for the loss, which has been calculated as being $280 since these claims were settled on the basis of weight and not on the value of the goods that have been lost," the commission noted.
Bhan said the Rs.2 lakh compensation awarded to Chopra under the consumer protection law "is in addition to the settlement of the claim as per the terms and conditions of the Carriage by Air Act, 1972".
The airline was impolite and indifferent right from the time the luggage was lost, Mr Chopra said in his complaint.
"This is borne out by the fact that in the first instance only a very meagre interim relief of $50 was offered and it was increased only the next day after his vehement protests," the complaint said.
Mr Chopra said during the return journey when they arrived in Dubai, he found that the locks of the remaining checked-in baggage had been tampered with and papers were missing.
In Dubai he was forced to purchase a new $200 suitcase to carry his belongings back to India, he said.
Emirates took the defence that "it was the respondent (Chopra) who was to blame for packing his important documents required for the conference in his checked-in baggage when there was a specific advisory in the ticket that such items as also valuables should not be put in checked-in baggage".