[Article updated December 17 at 13:00]
A Connexion reader affected by France’s newly tightened restrictions on visitors from the UK has been told by Ryanair that she cannot change her flights without pay fees totalling £360 even though she is now banned from travelling to France.
Under new rules coming in tomorrow Saturday December 18 only people who have an essential for travel will be allowed to enter France.
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal described the rule as a bid to “slow down and reduce as much as possible the arrival of the Omicron variant.”
Essential reasons include being a French national or resident but not tourism or family visits.
Caroline Ralph, an office worker from southeast England, was due to fly from Stansted to Biarritz with her husband and 11 and 14-year-old children on Boxing Day to spend a week with friends.
The new travel ban means they cannot now enter France.
However, when she contacted Ryanair to ask if she could change her flights or receive a voucher for the cost of her tickets, she was refused.
The airline stated that, as the flight was still running, the family could not be compensated for their inability to fly.
“We didn’t even ask for our money back, we would have been happy to get a voucher or to change the date of the flight, but they wouldn’t have any of it,” Ms Ralph told The Connexion.
“The flights and the car parking were around £400, which is a huge amount of money for us to lose.
“They said that we could change our flights free of charge for early January but that is no good because the rules probably won’t change before then.
‘There was no attempt to help us out’
“If we wanted to change our flight [beyond that date] we would have had to pay £45 per flight per person, so £360. They wouldn’t give us any help at all. We tried to explain to them that we are not allowed to travel to France and they said it was nothing to do with them.
“We were going to be staying with friends so we didn’t have to worry about cancelling accommodation but £400 is a lot to lose.
“I understand that Ryanair is struggling, everyone is struggling at the moment, but there was no attempt to help us out. I can’t understand why they can’t meet us halfway.
“We understand that the rules are there for a reason, but we had the same issue last year as well, where we had to change our EasyJet flight because of Covid.”
Ryanair policy is not new
EasyJet currently allows passengers to change their flights for another available date free of charge – unless the new ticket is more expensive – no matter what the reason, as do British Airways and Air France.
“We are quite angry, and it’s obviously upsetting for the children. If we are allowed to travel in two or three months’ time we will have to pay all over again. It feels very unfair that they are taking our money knowing that we cannot fly.”
This Ryanair policy is not new. During the second UK lockdown in November 2020, the company would not refund passengers who were no longer allowed to fly, although on that occasion it did waive fees for changing bookings.
In its terms and conditions, the airline states that: “All Ryanair flights are changeable but they cannot be cancelled.”
The European Consumer Centre, which is a Europe-wide network offering help and advice in relation to consumer rights, states that: “If your flight is maintained but you ask for your tickets to be cancelled because you can no longer or do not want to leave, your right to a refund will depend on the terms of your tickets.”
The UK’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau confirms this, stating that: “If the company doesn’t cancel your booking, you can ask for a refund but you don’t have an automatic right to one. Check the terms and conditions of your booking to see what you can do.”
The Connexion has contacted the Civil Aviation Authority to ask whether Ms Ralph should have been offered a voucher or free exchange on her tickets. A spokesperson suggested that she could lodge a complaint with Ryanair if she believes that she has been treated unfairly. This can then be escalated to an alternative dispute resolution provider if required, but the CAA could not say whether this case would progress.
Chargeback refund blacklist
Early this year, Ryanair also barred some passengers who received ‘chargeback’ refunds on flights they could not take from booking tickets until they repay the money they were reimbursed.
Travellers who were unable to fly due to UK coronavirus restrictions were not refunded automatically because the flight still ran, and so claimed the money back through their debit or credit card company, citing a service not provided.
These people were then able to reserve new tickets with Ryanair, but when they came to check in or manage their booking, they found that they could not continue until they repaid the sum they had been refunded, which could be as much as £630.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had initiated an investigation into Ryanair and British Airways over the refusal of refunds for flights that could not be taken due to lockdown restrictions.
Lack of clarity in law
However, this was later dropped because of a lack of clarity in the law and the cost of enforcement action.
It is therefore unclear whether Ryanair should have automatically refunded the passengers who were unable to travel.
A Ryanair spokeswoman previously told The Connexion that: “The many millions of Ryanair customers whose flights were cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic and who applied directly to Ryanair for refunds, which they received directly from Ryanair, will be completely unaffected by these measures.
“There is a tiny minority of passengers (less than 850) who purchased non-refundable tickets on Ryanair flights which operated as scheduled during Covid-19 but who chose not to travel and then unlawfully processed chargebacks via their credit card company.
“These few passengers will be required to settle their outstanding debt before they will be allowed to fly with Ryanair again.
“This regretted restriction applies to only a tiny fraction of Ryanair’s 150 million passengers annually who chose to unlawfully break their booking agreements with us.”