Business

Ruination of air travel amid cancelled flight refund

The bottomline is that if you pay for something and don’t get it, you should get your money back. Not in vouchers but in the money you paid. Refusal to comply with this simple principle, using Covid-19 as an excuse, is a disgrace, WOLE SHADARE writes

 

Crossroads

 

Travellers by air, who could not make their journey, are having a hectic time getting refund. Travel agents are equally at a cross road as to what they can do since they have remitted ticket funds to airlines. The carriers are coming with options that travelers should rescheduled their flights to a later date, which is not an option for people who do not have cause to travel.

 

Drama

 

A mild drama played out at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos recently, when two people who had booked on an airline (name withheld) besieged the airline’s counters for refund. To the chargrin of the duo, the airline referred them to their head office.

 

They proceeded to the office only to be asked again to go back to the airport’s sales office. On getting there, they said the problem could only be solved by going to the office. On getting there, they were told that the airline had agreed to only reschedule their flights to another date or lose the tickets and their money. They were enraged.

 

The situation led to a shouting match with a promise to sue the airline.

 

Liddle, Ridley experience

 

Like many others across the UK, Emily Liddle and George Ridley are struggling to secure a refund for a holiday which was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The couple, who lived in Edinburgh for years, were due to fly to Japan in March and spend three months travelling around Asia. They say they are about £2,000 out of pocket for flights from two airlines who have refused to refund in cash, instead offering vouchers for future flights. “We’re sort of being asked to hand them an interest-free loan for a year or more,” said George.

 

They spoke out as Citizens Advice Scotland called for action to help consumers who have been refused refunds for flights, holiday and events which have been cancelled during the pandemic.

 

George and Emily say Lufthansa originally promised a cash refund, but then backtracked and offered a voucher while KLM refused cash as it was “not their current policy”. Both airlines have offered the couple vouchers – but the couple say this does not solve their problems as similar flights later on in the year have since sky rocketed in price.

 

Lufthansa set rules

 

Lufthansa told journalists recently that refunds are “generally possible” but added they “cannot be made within the usual deadlines.” A spokesperson said: “Lufthansa asks customers for their understanding that due to the high volume of requests, it might not be possible to process refunds within the usual time limits. Lufthansa is continuously increasing their capacities to enable faster processing of inquiries.”

 

KLM said that passengers whose flights were cancelled before May 15 have three options – to change their travel dates for free, to change their destination or to take a voucher for their ticket value. They said vouchers for cancelled flights will be refunded if they are not used after 12 months.

 

Many travelers have fallen into this situation and many more are likely to fall into the situation because of plot by airlines not to make refund for flights not flown. For international flights, the situation is different with the exception of few who might want to make life difficult for their passengers with a view to not making refunds. Cash crunch

 

While the airlines would not refund for now due to cash crunch, about 5000 top-rated travel agencies in Nigeria are caught in-between paying customers’ refund and settling airlines’ mandatory remittances, both estimated to reach a total of N200 billion.

 

British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa and few others have pledged to issue refunds to “interested customers” in accordance to the 50 days rule. To make matters worse, the foreign airlines, through the International Air Transport Association (IATA), have mandated all travel agencies to pay up all tickets issued to date, whether used or unused, or risk being cut off from the business because of default.

 

Emirates’s good example

 

Emirates said that it had returned more than $1.4 billion (AED 5 billion) in ticket refunds to customers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw all scheduled passenger flights cancelled from late-March. More than 1.4 million refunds requests have been completed since March, representing 90% of the airline’s backlog.

 

This includes all requests received from customers around the world up until the end of June. “We understand that from our customers’ standpoint, each pending refund request is one too many,” said Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline.

 

“We are committed to honouring refunds and are trying our utmost to clear the massive and unprecedented backlog that was  caused by the pandemic.” He added: “Most cases are straightforward, and these we will process quickly. But there are cases which will take a bit more time for our customer teams to manually review and complete.”

 

IATA laments

 

IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said there were no words to adequately describe the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry as a whole, describing it as the worst crisis ever in the air travel sector. De Juniac said IATA was scoping a comprehensive approach to re-booting the industry when governments and public health authorities allow. A multi-stakeholder approach will be essential.

 

One initial step is a series of virtual meetings—or summits— on a regional basis, bringing together governments and industry stakeholders. “We are not expecting to restart the same industry that we closed a few weeks ago. Airlines will still connect the world.

 

And we will do that through a variety of business models. But the industry processes will need to adapt. We must get on with this work quickly.

 

Last line

 

Coronavirus pandemic has abated but it remains to be seen what plans Nigerian airlines and other international airlines have in place to refund travelers who had booked their flights prior to COVID-19.

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