As the coronavirus pandemic continues to bring travel to a standstill worldwide, many passengers are finding that their flights have been cancelled.
Under normal circumstances, getting a refund would be a fairly straightforward task.
However, faced with the near-complete grounding of entire fleets, airlines are struggling to cope with the number of claims being made.
Many carriers are heavily pushing customers to accept credit vouchers or to rebook for future travel instead.
What are the rules on refunds for cancelled flights?
EU regulations stipulate that passengers are entitled to a refund for a cancelled flight within seven days. This applies to any flight between two countries within the EU or from the EU to a non-EU country, and any flight from a non-EU country to the EU on an EU airline.
However, amid the mass grounding of aircraft, UK airlines are lobbying for a relaxation of the regulations that would mean they could defer payment.
Airlines UK, representing British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, TUI Airways and Virgin Atlantic, has asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for a “refund holiday” until the pandemic is over.
If the passenger insists on cash, rather than alternative flights, Airlines UK said: “Carriers should be permitted to defer payment.”
As yet, this suggested rule change has not been approved, meaning travellers are still entitled to their money back within the stipulated seven-day period.
Canada has already changed its rules on mandatory refunds. The Canadian Transport Agency said: “An appropriate approach in the current context could be for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time.”
How can I get a refund from Ryanair?
Unlike some of its rivals, Ryanair is still offering a straightforward online form to fill out in order to secure a refund for a cancelled flight: refundclaims.ryanair.com/
However, The Independent has heard reports that the form has a bug preventing many people from being able to save and submit it.
Maureen Dean told The Independent: “I filled in their online refund form 11 days ago. I have been trying continually on a daily basis to send the form. There is a continual pop-up which says: ‘The airline code selected does not match the airline of any of the flights for this booking’.
“Because of their continual pop-up I am unable to send my refund form.”
A similar account was given by Monique Mathieu, who told The Independent: “I have been unable to get a refund – same story, my booking number is rejected, I tried six to eight times by now maybe more.”
However, some customers have reported that their forms have gone through after multiple attempts, suggesting persistence is key.
Brendon Sullivan said he had tried for hours before the application was eventually accepted.
“Maybe they are overloaded or just being difficult, I don’t know,” he said.
“I had the same problem for a couple of days,” said Twitter user @eric_cranston. “I applied yesterday and the refund went through.
“I think it’s most likely due to their website backend database probably overwhelmed with requests.”
How can I get a refund from British Airways?
Much of the British Airways fleet is grounded, and the airport bases at Gatwick and London City have shut down completely.
However, unlike other carriers, BA is continuing to fly, with a skeleton service running to and from Heathrow airport.
For those whose flights have been cancelled, BA has removed the option of being able to submit a simple refund claim form on its website.
Instead, it takes you through to a page where you can claim an onine credit voucher, valid for travel within 12 months of your original departure date.
To obtain a cash refund, customers must ring up the airline on 0800 727 800 from within the UK, or +44 (0)203 250 0145 from abroad.
However, BA says: “Call volumes are extremely high at the moment due to the unprecedented circumstances so please bear with us if it takes some time for us to help with your booking.”
How can I get a refund from easyJet?
EasyJet announced on 30 March that it was stopping all commercial flights and grounding all its 344 Airbus aircraft across Europe.
Previously, when easyJet cancelled a flight, passengers would be sent a link that took them to the booking and they could request their money back online in a matter of moments.
However, the carrier has removed this option from its website in a bid to persuade passengers to take vouchers for future travel instead.
Passengers with flights that have been cancelled are still entitled to a refund – but to get the money back, they must phone the airline.
Many passengers have reported struggling to get through to easyJet on the phone.
“We are currently receiving an extremely high volume of calls and we understand the inconvenience this may cause,” says the airline.
Customers have a full year from the date of the cancelled flight in which to call and claim a refund.
Rather than the published number, The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder suggests this top tip: “You could try 0161 774 9879 – which is the number for overseas calls. Press 1 for English and wait.”
What if I booked through a travel agent?
If you booked flights through a travel agent that have now been cancelled, things become slightly trickier. There is no point in contacting the airline direct, as your contract is with the third party agent.
Contacting them is the only way of getting your options – however, again, The Independent has heard reports of travel agents pushing clients to accept a voucher instead of a refund.
Customers are still within their rights to demand their money back, but be warned: many third party sites will take off a fairly substantial administration fee (in the region of £65 in some cases) for processing the refund.
What if I’m still stranded abroad?
The government has announced a £75m airlift for British nationals stuck around the world, although it’s been frustratingly sketchy on the exact details. In some cases, chartered rescue flights are not being offered, and passengers must try to book on the scant commercial flights available (such as on PIA services operating from Pakistan).
If you’re booked onto a flight that’s cancelled, it’s usually better not to accept a refund as it is then still the airline’s responsibility to get you home.
“Passengers whose flights are cancelled should be able either to obtain reimbursement of their tickets or to obtain re-routing under satisfactory conditions, and should be adequately cared for while awaiting a later flight,” say the EU regulations.
However, in many cases, airlines are announcing they’re grounding their entire fleets – if no commercial flights are available, get in touch with the British embassy, Consulate or High Commission in the country you’re in to let them know you still need help.
culled from Independent UK