NEW DELHI: Aviation regulator DGCA directed airlines on Sunday to stop taking bookings for travel after May 3, assuring them that they would be given sufficient time to restart flight operations.
The regulator's direction came in the evening as private Indian airlines were taking bookings during the day, ignoring Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri's "advice" on Saturday to open bookings only after the government takes a decision on resumption of flights.
Air India heeded to the minister's advice and stopped all bookings on Sunday before the regulator issued the order.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a circular stating: "All airlines are hereby directed to refrain from booking tickets. Further, the airlines may note that they shall be given sufficient notice and time for restarting operations."
Several passengers have complained on social media against Indian airlines that they are not giving refunds for flights cancelled due to the coronavirus-forced lockdown and instead issuing credit vouchers for future travel.
On April 16, the Aviation ministry said passengers can ask airlines for a full refund if the bookings were done during the first phase of lockdown for travel up to May 3.
However, the government has not taken any decision till now on whether a full refund should be given to passengers who booked their tickets before the lockdown for travel during the March 25-May 3 period.
The first phase of the lockdown was from March 25 to April 14.
The second phase began on April 15 and would end on May 3.
All domestic and international commercial passenger flights have been suspended for the lockdown period.
However, cargo and special flights permitted by the DGCA can fly in this period.
Vistara and Air Asia India told PTI on Sunday afternoon that they had not received any notice from the Civil Aviation Ministry on the issue of stopping bookings.
The other three major private Indian airlines -- SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir -- did not respond to queries by PTI about what action would they take on Puri's advice to cease bookings currently.
As all private carriers continued taking bookings through the day, the DGCA stepped in on Sunday evening, stating that previous circulars of the government or the regulator did not give "any direction which allows" the airlines to start taking ticket bookings for travel May 4 onwards.
The regulator reiterated what Puri had said on Saturday -- no decision to start domestic or international flight operations from May 4 has been taken yet.
The DGCA stated that the direction to the stop taking bookings is for "strict compliance by all airlines".