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Airlines delaying over cancelled flight refunds

Sat 25th Apr 2020
Airlines delaying over cancelled flight refunds

Major British travel companies are flouting the law by denying refunds totalling £7 Bln on cancelled holidays, according to the UK’s leading consumer group.

Which? Magazine explained that research found that tour operators, including Tui and Jet2 Holidays, and airlines, including British Airways and easyJet, were failing in their legal duty to refund flights impacted by coronavirus within 14 days.

Some have caused further annoyance by persuading travellers from claiming refunds altogether, instead urging them to accept credit notes or travel vouchers. This week Ryanair customers told how they had been sent travel vouchers despite filling out forms for refunds weeks earlier. The airline has said passengers might have to wait until the pandemic is over before any such refunds can be made.

In recent weeks thousands of travellers have complained of poor customer service from Airlines for having confusing and time-consuming refund protocols; some have been left thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Which? said that holiday firms breached the rights of consumers and risks an irreparable lack of trust in the industry. Its travel editor Rory Boland said: “We have been inundated with messages from desperate travellers, some who are thousands of pounds out of pocket as a result of cancellations and have no idea if or when they’ll see their money again.

“We do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, but it cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own.”

The Association of British Travel Agents – ABTA - confirmed that customers “absolutely have the right to a refund”, but the pandemic lockdown “has led to a huge volume of holidays being affected”.

“ABTA’s expectation is that its members will provide a refund as soon as possible.”

ABTA has been asking the Government to help since early on in the crisis, warning that travel companies will go bankrupt without support. “If companies are forced into bankruptcy it will not only destroy livelihoods, but the Atol scheme would be overwhelmed leading to even longer delays in customers recovering their money,” the spokesperson said.

Airlines UK, which represents British carriers including British Airways and Easyjet, said airlines are “facing unprecedented challenges”.

A spokesperson said: “Carriers are facing a far longer than usual volume of refund claims to get through and the current restrictions imposed nationally mean they are not able to bring in additional staff to deal with them. We are thankful to passengers for their continued patience.”

The travel industry has estimated that up to £7billion worth of cancellation refunds are due to British holidaymakers due to the coronavirus. There have been several warnings from operators and airlines that current rules on refunds face decimating businesses.

Which? has issued a 10-point plan to protect operators and consumers. It calls on a relaxation of the 14-day window for refunds, up to a month; for all vouchers issued to be protected against insolvency; the creation of a Government Travel Guarantee Fund; and the change of Foreign Office travel restrictions to a specific date.

A Government spokesperson from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: "Companies have a legal obligation to ensure their consumers are fairly compensated. We are keeping the situation under review and looking at options to support businesses and consumers through this difficult period.

"We continue to engage with the travel sector and consumer advocacy bodies to assess the impact of cancellations made in light of the Covid-19 outbreak."

“In normal circumstances the rules to provide a refund for a package holiday within 14 days work well. But these are not normal circumstances and the 14 day refund rule is impossible for the majority of companies to stick to.

“Many travel agents and tour operators are unable to provide immediate cash refunds because they have not yet received money back from airlines and hotels around the world that may have temporarily closed. It’s in nobody’s interests for normally healthy travel businesses to go under.”

Recommended Reading :

* Travel Insurance in Spain

* Can I claim compensation if my flight to Spain is cancelled or delayed ?

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