CHENNAI: A 68-year-old wheelchair bound woman from the city, who sufferred a harrowing detention of nearly 12 hours at the Abu Dhabi International Airport due to an error on the part of Etihad Airways, a UAE-based air carrier, was awarded a compensation of `3 lakh by the consumer forum.
The senior citizen, Arumugam Kanthimathiammal, a resident of Adyar, returning from Chicago on July 24, 2010 after visiting her son’s family, was disembarked from a connecting flight at Abu Dhabi as her name was incorrect in the boarding pass issued in Chicago.
For no fault of hers, she had to be in detention in an unknown land, with no knowledge of the local language or any friends to help and was even deprived of her medicines. The airline staff suspected to the old woman be travelling on forged identity and handed her over to the airport staff who in turn detained her in a hotel room at the airport.
Underlining the mental agony that Kanthimathiammal had gone through in a foreign land without knowing either English or Urdu or even an alternative dress and medicines, the Chennai South District Consumer Grievances Redressal Forum directed the Etihad Airways to pay compensation as carelessness of its staff was responsible for the sequence of the events.
According to Kanthimathiammal’s counsel, she had noticed that her name was incorrect in the boarding pass prior to boarding the first flight at the Chicago airport itself and informed her son.
“Her son had brought this to the notice of the customer service staff of the Etihad Airlines at Chicago airport. But they assured that the error will not affect her travel and informed about the staff at Abu Dhabi airport beign alerted about the error. When her son expressed concern about his elderly mother travelling alone, the staff reassured that they will ensure her safe travel of her up to Chennai,” said the plaintiff’s counsel.
But despite the assurance, without a proper enquiry, she was handed over to the airport authorities by the airline. Kanthimathiammal was let off only after her son-in-law flew to Abu Dhabi from Chennai and explained the facts to the airport authorities.
Citing a Supreme Court judgment, forum presided by P Jayabalan also rejected the contention that a company run by a foreign government can claim immunity for its commercial operations.
“It is evident that the misery that the senior citizen went through in the foreign land is to such an extent the she will never forget it in her lifetime,” he observed in the order.
The counsel for the airlines admitted that Kanthimathiammal was detained at Abu Dhabi as there was a mistake in her name in the boarding pass. However, the air carrier argued that the plaintiff has no locus standi to claim compensation as under Carriage By Air Act 1972 and Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, during an international airline travel, compensation could be claimed only for injuries and damage to property.
The forum rejected the argument and held that there was a deficiency of service by the airlines for which it was liable and directed it to pay `3 lakh as compensation to Kanthimathiammal.