Airline passengers are still waiting for Covid-19 refunds

People are still waiting too long for refunds for flights cancelled due to Covid-19, but the pressure is on...

7 October 2020
White Ryain airplane wing in a blue and cloudy sky. Article: Airlines still owe customers refunds for cancelled flights - what are the airlines saying? Photo by Anastasia Dulgier / UnsplashAirlines still owe customers refunds for cancelled flights - what are the airlines saying? Anastasia Dulgier / Unsplash
By Liv Rowland

Many clients are still unhappy about their treatment over refunds for flights cancelled because of Covid-19. Under EU law, companies must offer repayment within seven days for all cancellations, but problems with airlines failing to give such refunds were reported from the start of the confinement period.

Since then, there have been improvements in official refund policies – but many delays. Joyce Pitcher, a lawyer representing more than 1,000 people, reports that firms no longer refuse a refund, though she claims many do not pay out until forced to do so.

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What are The Connexion readers saying?

Leading consumer association UFC-Que Choisir is bringing legal action against 20 airlines in the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris. It is also fighting a French decree allowing travel agents selling package holidays to give only vouchers – refundable if not used in 18 months – and not refunds for combinations of travel and accommodation or other services.

The European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against France for this policy.

Connexion reader Ashwyn Smyth booked a return Limoges to Stansted flight for May 15 on Ryanair’s website. The firm advised him on April 8 that it was being cancelled, offering a voucher or a refund.

“I immediately advised that I wanted a refund, since then I have repeatedly emailed and also submitted two formal complaints. I have received no refund, no response to my emails, no response to my formal complaints,” he said. “I am staggered and disgusted they appear to think themselves above the law and the author-ities are allowing them to get away with it. I am giving them an interest-free loan.”

Ms Pitcher (pitcher-avocat.fr) said: “We have a lot of dossiers coming up to be heard in court, but we find that once they are summonsed, the firms want to make a deal with us. So far, no firm has tried to defend itself – they have agreed to pay. There are some that haven’t responded to us.”

Firms now refuse refunds outright only where tickets were bought via agencies, she said.

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“The airline and agency say it’s the other’s responsibility. It gains them more time again.” She said a travel agents’ group has started legal action against air industry body IATA, which she said had stopped a system of automatic refunds, to the client directly or via the agency.

“We are still very much in demand, because people are still waiting,” she said. She has many cases dating back to the start of confinement in March.

Ms Pitcher added that a “new problem” is that many airlines are once again selling a wide range of flights, knowing that many are likely to be cancelled. “They open flights, but maybe only one in four is maintained. They group remaining passengers on a single plane and people end up with long waits for connecting flights.”

UFC-Que Choisir is hoping for hearings by the end of the year at the Tribunal de Grande Instance. Its legal expert Raphaël Bartlomé said the firms had not made enough effort to improve the service and to communicate with customers.

What are airlines doing?

“Air France, for example, has finally provided a refund form, but the main thing is we want the money to be paid out. Sometimes they give the right information, but still after one, two or three months, no refund has appeared.” In July, UFC-Que Choisir joined 11 other European consumer bodies in an “external alert”: an EU-wide warning to the European Commission and national anti-fraud bodies.

They studied how firms operate within different countries, finding they reimburse better in some, depending on how strict the national authorities are. For example, BA pays out in the UK, but its subsidiary Iberia does not in France, he said.

The aim is to push national air industry authorities to crack down on the practices, Mr Bartlomé said. “It’s as if they’ve just been looking the other way,” he said. “But that’s not the way to encourage people to travel by plane again.”

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Concerning the package holidays decree, top administrative court the Conseil d’Etat refused in July to fast-track that case, but UFC-Que Choisir hopes to be heard by early next year.

A spokesman said: “We’re not trying to kill off travel businesses and put people out of work, but the consumer is important. France keeps saying we must consume to relaunch the economy, but the consumer has been forgotten, as if it was a problem of the rich, which isn’t true.” There have also been problems with reimbursements from Corsica Ferries, he said.

A European Commission spokesman said France has responded concerning the infringement action over package holidays and it is deciding on the appropriate follow-up.

Earlier this year, it advised all EU states to enforce the right to refunds for cancelled flights, while also advising how vouchers, which the firms prefer, could legitimately be made more attractive to customers by offering extra value or perks.

The Commission is assessing the situation in member states and has asked for more inform-ation on how EU passenger rights for all kinds of transport are being applied, by October 21. “We stand ready to take further measures if necessary.”

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