Consumer Rights, Topics for Individuals

Airlines refuse to refund passengers

COVID-19 and the travel sector

Since the coronavirus emerged, there has been one theme prevalent amongst the consumer columns. That question is ‘why is my airline refusing to give me a refund?’ The answer is that many airlines are suffering financially and looking for a way to ensure their customers return once the epidemic has subsided. The Civil Aviation Authority has explicitly stated that: “If your flight has been cancelled, your airline must offer you the choice of a refund or an alternative flight.” In place of refunds many customers have been offered vouchers to book new flights in the future. The problem is that we are likely to see financial jeopardy for many airlines and we could see the prices of holidays skyrocket in the near future. We could see a taxpayer funded bailout which is what the airlines will require should their cash run out. With that in mind, vouchers could prove to be an effective method of mitigating losses but it should be the choice of the customer, not of the airline. A sheer refusal to refund customers infringes legal rights and may damage the reputation of airlines.

What about my rights for delayed and cancelled flights?

The European Parliament said back in May that: “Air passengers have the right to compensation if their flight is cancelled less than two weeks before the departure date, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances”. This exception may apply in the case of the corona outbreak, where the measures taken by public authorities prevent the normal activity of airlines.” This means that customers are unlikely to be able to claim flight delay compensation. In the European Commission’s recommendation on vouchers offered to passengers in the context of coronavirus it has been advised that where vouchers are offered, they should be valid for at least one year and must be refunded if they are not used. Again, at the choice of the customer not of the airline.

When will I be able to go on holiday again?

There’s been hints to suggest that air travel could commence as early as this month. The current 14-day quarantine rule that was introduced in UK on returning holidaymakers made it virtually impossible for most people to travel so it will be interesting to see what measures will be in place. Safety is paramount and it is questionable whether it is safe to return to ‘normality’ so far as travel is concerned. One thing is certain, the economy cannot sustain this halt on services and travel forever. I think we all eager to return to return to life as usual but we are ever wary of the real risk posed by coronavirus as it stands.

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