The Union government has asked online travel platforms to process by next week all pending fare refunds from the pandemic lockdown period, after a review meeting, a senior official said on Wednesday.
Travel aggregators have time till third week of November to return fares to customers who booked tickets for travel during the lockdown period and the government will take follow-up actions to see its instructions are complied with, consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said after chairing a high-level meeting with travel aggregators.
In the meeting, the consumer affairs secretary noted that despite directions by the Supreme Court in a judgment dated October 1, 2020 in the case of Pravasi Legal Cell vs. Union of India (D.No. 10966 of 2020), complaints of non-refund of ticket amount were piling up on the National Consumer Helpline (1915). The top court had ordered full refunds for tickets booked during the lockdown period for travel within that period.
The statutory Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has issued notices to six online travel platforms on the matter: EaseMyTrip, Yatra, MakeMyTrip, HappyEasyGo, ClearTrip and Ixigo. Travel agencies such as Thomas Cook, Kesari Tours, Veena World, Neem Holidays & Mango Holidays were also directed to immediately refund consumers in accordance with directions of the Supreme Court.
Two travel companies, Ixigo and Thomas Cook, have so far refunded all outstanding amounts to customers. An investigation is ongoing in the case of travel platform HappyGoEasy for not disclosing amount refunded so far or complying with instructions, the consumer affairs ministry said.
The CCPA is also probing Neem Holidays, a vacation-services firm, for irregularities. Three firms, Kesari Tours, Mango Holidays and Veena World, have filed petitions in the court against orders for refunds passed by the CCPA.
The consumer rights watchdog has also begun cracking down on so-called dark patterns on travel websites. These are design tactics on web pages intended to lure consumers into making a choice or making a transaction they never intended to.
For instance, e-commerce companies could use marketing ploys such as “limited-time offers” that actually never end or fake notifications that suggest a product is going to be “sold out soon”, creating “false urgency”.
Nidhi Khare, special secretary in the department of consumer affairs, asked travel platforms to take down common “dark patterns” such as “confirm shaming” (showing ‘No, I will risk it’ during add-on of insurance), pre-ticked checkboxes (for authorizing contact by platform, its affiliates and associate partners) and triggering alarms (‘last few rooms left’), etc.
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