When take-off gets delayed by over three hours after a plane’s passengers have boarded, they must be allowed to return to the terminal so they can eat or go to the toilet, the Supreme Court has ruled.
It has added that if for some reason these passengers cannot be allowed to return to the terminal and remain stuck inside the plane, the airline must provide them food and water. It must do so even if it happens to be a low-cost carrier and is normally not required to offer free meals.
Any failure on these fronts will entitle the passengers to compensation, the court said in the judgment on Monday.
It, however, clarified that it was ruling only on an airline’s duties to passengers during long delays; and that the judgment had no bearing on whether the carrier was responsible for the delay itself.
“The issue of responsibility for delay is different from the responsibility of the airline to offer facilitation to the passengers grounded or stuck on board due to delay,” it said.
The court noted that it’s often the airport authorities who prevent these passengers from getting off their stranded flights and returning to the airport lounge.
This is because long delays often strike several planes at an airport together — for instance, during poor weather. With many flights delayed or cancelled, the terminals tend to become crowded, prompting the airport authorities to request airlines to keep the passengers confined to the aircraft.