Monday, December 20, 2010

India: Passengers Should Look at Conditions of Carriage

People keeping up with this blog know I am stranded in Delhi because Virgin and most airlines have canceled their flights to Heathrow. I've complained about Virgin's local Delhi representatives providing either conflicting information or no information at all. Now, it's about 1AM, and I've finally turned on my legal brain. After getting massively upset about the airline's failure to communicate properly, I went online and looked up my airline's Conditions of Carriage. I finally have a good idea about what I am entitled to from Virgin.

In case of cancellations, Virgin's Conditions of Carriage refer you to Article 9. From there you can see that 9.3 and its subsections apply. indicates that passengers "may choose one of the following three remedies" in case of cancellation. One of the options includes re-routing at a later date (see According to, if the re-routing means that the "reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the next day after the scheduled departure date of the cancelled flight," then passengers are entitled to assistance specified in Articles and

In my case, the re-routing changed my flight from December 19 to December 25--much longer than just the next day--meaning that I am entitled to the assistance in Articles and, unless the airline reasonably expects that the "provision of such assistance would cause delay." A reasonable construction of the exception--which is used throughout the contract, including in situations of a mere delay rather than a cancellation--probably means that an airline might have the discretion to keep you at the airport if giving you assistance (i.e., hotel room, transportation to a hotel room, etc.) would cause a delay in getting you on your re-routed flight. Otherwise, the exception would swallow the rule, as some lawyers like to say.

I don't think it is reasonable to say that the expectation of a delay allows any airline to re-rout you, give you a new confirmed booking, and then later demand you take an earlier flight just because it's more convenient or cheaper for the airline. Once you and the airline have agreed to a confirmed booking to a date that is more than the next day, you have a new contract that requires the airline to get you out on those new agreed upon dates. Therefore, there would be no "delay" caused by a passenger unless staying in a hotel would cause the passenger to miss his upcoming re-routed flight. I imagine this might be an issue if an airline is stuck in the middle of nowhere, is waiting for a re-routed flight in two days, and the nearest hotel is two or more days away. In that case, it seems reasonable for the airline to require passengers to stay in the airport to ensure there is no delay. In my case, however, my hotel is 20 minutes from the airport, and there is little expectation of a delay by staying here.

So what do Articles and allow? allows assistance of a "hotel accommodation if a stay of one or more nights, or a stay additional to that intended by you, becomes necessary." Basically, when the airline representative told me Virgin was only required to put me up for one night, he was wrong. allows transport from the airport to the hotel. Other provisions allow two telephone calls or faxes or e-mails. (Remember, that's "or," not "and," but the restriction of "two" may only apply to phone calls. The language is unclear.)

So there we have it. Check your conditions of carriage online whenever you are stuck in a hotel and have questions about what your airline is required to provide you. Note: this posting is not intended to be legal advice. As always, you cannot rely on any statements made on this blog--my writings are merely my impressions as a layperson trying to navigate our crazy, unpredictable world. If you find something useful, that's wonderful; however, you must always do your own due diligence.

Update: all of my work didn't convince anyone at Virgin that they had incorrect information, but at least now I am now in London. Each and every Virgin employee refuses to read the Articles I've highlighted and gives me the company line: delays due to weather conditions do not require Virgin to put anyone up in a hotel for more than one night. Even when I point out that my situation is different because I have a confirmed outgoing flight that is more than 48 hours away and my flight is international, no one seems to care.

The problem with Virgin is that no one except one main manager seems to have any authority to do anything. Unless you get in touch with the main manager, each and every other employee seems to do his or her best to actively inconvenience you. For example, when I landed in Heathrow, the first employee at the Virgin counter told me no flights were being scheduled, so I would have to stick to my original departure date of Dec 26 to SFO. (This was actually an improvement over the Virgin employee I first talked to when I came to Delhi's airport--she told me I shouldn't have showed up because no flights were leaving to London that day. I later got a flight to London after speaking to the top manager and explaining the Virgin employee who came to the hotel told me I would be able to fly out that day.)

In London, I asked a Virgin employee about a hotel, and she referred me to another desk. I went to the desk, located in a different building, but that desk was empty. The second Virgin person I spoke to at a different counter told me Virgin would not put me in any hotel because all hotels were booked. His direct manager said the same thing. I finally got in touch with someone who appeared to be the very top Virgin manager. After just a minute of hearing my situation, this top level manager told the Virgin employee to put me in a hotel overnight and get me out on another flight as soon as possible. Then, within ten minutes, the employee who said that I couldn't get an earlier departure time or get a hotel because all of them were booked offered me a hotel (though only for one night) and a new flight leaving on Dec 23. Unbelievable.

Also, it turns out that the idiots at Virgin's Delhi operations actually wrote in my PNR or flight data information sheet that I had agreed to pay 75 pounds to get them to change my flight details. Outright lies.

The airline industry is the worst-run major business in the world. Anytime employees don't read their own rules carefully; have no discretion to assist customers fully without someone else's approval; and actually have disincentives to assist customers to get something done, disaster and fraud await.

Also, I just found out that a fellow traveller from Delhi, the last person there on Dec 19, managed to speak to the head of Delhi airport and get back to the States on Continental Airlines the same night. Virgin's Delhi employees have treated its passengers differently based on a random set of factors and engaged in a pattern of either negligent or intentional misrepresentations. First they told us they couldn't get us on other airlines, and I've personally spoken to three people leaving on partner airlines (all of the three people who got to leave stayed the longest and complained persistently). Then Virgin's Delhi employees told us they had no obligation to put us in a hotel at all, which is false. (After I was in the airport for 7 hours, they put me and others in a hotel, but failed to tell the hotel that they were paying for my stay for more than one night, even though they had booked me to leave a whopping six days later--which they said was the only confirmed outgoing flight from Delhi to London at that time.)

Finally, a London Virgin operations employee told me that Virgin had no hotels available, but then offered me a hotel after a high level manager intervened. Unfortunately, Virgin offered me a hotel for only one night even though my new flight is scheduled to leave on December 23--two nights from now. What the heck am I supposed to do on December 22, I asked? Virgin's London operations didn't seem to care one bit. I managed to get accommodations on my own for two nights.

One last thing: several Virgin employees in Delhi would not provide me with their names. At my Delhi hotel, outside in a public area, I took a picture of the only Virgin employee I saw to have some way of identifying her, and she hounded me for the next several hours, demanding I delete her picture. When she ran into me prior to my departure at the gate, she actually tried to withhold my passport, causing me to snatch it out of her hand to get it. When I asked for her manager, she refused to get her manager immediately, saying she was busy. (Of course I had to get through the gate and couldn't wait.) I asked for her name before I would delete her picture, and she refused to give me her name. (I deleted her picture later on, after I was on my way to Heathrow.)

Names on Virgin's Delhi employee badges are in ten point font and difficult to see. Yet all the badges have the following meaningless words in large, bold font: "Vanil Upto." It's as if Virgin's India employees want to avoid easy ways for passengers to hold them responsible later on. The "best" part? The Virgin employee who showed up on December 21 didn't recognize the name of the Virgin employee who came on December 20 to the hotel to provide us with information. And she wondered why I wanted her name for identification purposes. She had told me Virgin would cover my entire hotel stay once I got to London, which turned out to be false. What a disaster Virgin has turned out to be. Still, I give props to Virgin's top level manager at Heathrow, who managed to help me get an earlier flight to SFO. Thank you, good sir.

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